United Kingdom Schubert: The Complete Songs I Florian Boesch (baritone); Graham Johnson (piano). Wigmore Hall, London, 22.9.2015 (CC)
Liebestraum, D1a. Der Fischer, D225. Erster Verlust, D226. Der Gott und die Bajadere, D254. An Chloen, D462. Hochzeit-Lied, D463. In der Mitternacht, D464. Trauer der Liebe, D465. Die Perle, D466. Lied der Orpheus, als er in die Hölle ging, D474.
An die Nachtigall, D497. Der Tod und das Mädchen, D531. Täglich zu singen, D533. Der Schiffer, D536. Memnon, D541. Auf der Donau, D553. Aus Heliopolis I, D753. Aus Heliopolis II, D754. Der Sieg, D805. Der blinde Knabe, D833. Totengräbers Heimweh, D842. Das Lied im Grünen, D917.
It seems wholly appropriate that it is the Wigmore Hall that is to host a two-year, multi-musician cycle of the complete Schubert Lieder. That’s over 600 songs. An impassioned article by John Gilhooly in the programme booklet (reprinted from August 2015 Classical Music magazine) reminds us that “Wigmore Hall will present 96 song recitals this season”: now that, combined with the now ongoing Schubert project, is commitment. And the Schubert cycle is clearly close to the Wigmore’s heart, with spoken introductions at the outset by Gilhooly and the Austrian Ambassador. Expert programme notes by noted Schubert expert Richard Wigmore, author of Schubert: The Complete Song Texts (Schirmer), complete the picture.
Florian Boesch was the chosen soloist in the first two recitals (accompanied by two different pianists). For “Genesis”, it seemed only fitting he was joined on-stage by Graham Johnson, mastermind of the Hyperion Schubert Edition (review) and surely the UK’s most revered accompanist. And if one is to enter the world of song’s Holiest of Holies, it is only fitting one should start at the very beginning. In this case, a fragment, D1a, finished in mid-air. Written around 1810 (so when Schubert was around 13), it is an appealing song that includes lightly tripping dance alongside effectively sparse writing. Florian Boesch is a great narrator, as his performance of Der Fischer (to a text by Goethe) proved conclusively; and the palpable regret of Erster Verlust (both from 1815) was magnificently conveyed by both performers, particularly in the gorgeous, dark close.
The recital moved chronologically towards the stunning, massively imaginative Totengräbers Heimweh (1825) and the charming Das Lied im Grünen (1827). There was one encore: Geheimes. In between lay a cornucopia of delights, including a fascinating early song, Der Gott und die Bajadere (1797) which recounts (through a poem by Goethe) how the God Shiva incarnates on Earth in the form of Mahadöh and while here meets an Indian dancing girl (bayadère). He dies after one night of passion; then he rises from the funeral pyre, taking her with him. It is a lovely story, and Schubert reflects the tale’s darkening perfectly.
A clutch of songs from 1816 to texts by Johann Georg Jacobi were given with practised ease by Boesch. He leaned against the piano, relaxed, for An Chloen before the music plunged into the surprisingly austere opening of Hochzeit-Lied. Schubert’s deceptive simplicity comes in many forms, and the one encapsulated in In der Mitternacht is that of the power of single simple lines to evoke a shadowy, almost painterly, atmosphere. Both musicians traced the rapid emotional shifts of both Trauer der Liebe (1816) and Der Sieg (1824) to perfection.
Boesch can be highly dramatic and huge of voice (Die Perle, 1816, or Aus Heliopolis II, 1822), and the bright triumphalism of the close of the extended Lied der Orpheus, als er in die Hölle ging (1816) was the perfect close to the first half. There can be steel to his sound, too (Der Schiffer, ?1817). His voice is a tour-de-force, and it comes allied to a fierce intelligence that seems entirely focused on revealing Schubert’s keen responses to his chosen texts.
Graham Johnson’s playing exuded experience and reached its climax in the second half with glorious chordal work in the famous Das Tod und das Mädchen (1817). It is events such as this one that remind one of one’s love for this repertoire and just how much joy Schubert’s song output so consistently delivers. This is going to be some journey over the next two years.