United Kingdom Edinburgh International Festival 2022  – Schubert: Florian Boesch (baritone), Malcolm Martineau (piano). Queen’s Hall, 19.8.2022. (SRT)
Schubert – Winterreise
There is something rather incongruous about listening to Winterreise on an August morning, with the sun streaming through the windows and the bustle of an Edinburgh festival crowd outside.
That is the only criticism I have of this experience, though, one of the most deeply moving encounters with Schubert song that I have ever had. I reviewed (and loved) Florian Boesch’s recording of the cycle with Roger Vignoles (click here), but hearing him sing it live with Malcolm Martineau brought a whole new level of intensity to an experience that, at times, felt overwhelming.
Boesch’s baritone is a lyrical instrument but with a hard edge to it, making it all but ideal for the tone and mood of Schubert’s cycle, and I find generally that the bass transposition of these songs makes them even darker and more harrowing than if you hear them sung by, say, a tenor. The most remarkable things about Boesch’s performance, however, came not from the register of his voice but from his sheer identification with the character, the text and the music. He seemed to have considered and interrogated every word, every phrase, and imbued it with his own personal stamp of meaning. Endless details flagged up his artistry, such as the way the voice sweetens delightfully in the final major key stanza of Gute Nacht, or the gripping nature of the narrative in the opening lines of Rückblick.
He and Martineau had also thought through the work as a journey rather than a mere collection of songs. Der Lindenbaum, for example, came as a blissful refuge after the tension of the opening songs, and the false dawn of Die Post sounded cruel because it was so fleeting. Boesch seemed to sing the cycle with a sense of either bleak hopelessness or volcanic fury lurking just below the surface, and every so often it broke out to the surface, such as in the mention of the beloved’s house in Wasserflut, or the quiet resignation of Das Wirtshaus. It was a remarkable achievement, completely involving, one of those concerts in which it is a privilege to be a part of the audience.
None of which is to undersell the role of Malcolm Martineau. Under his fingers the piano was very much another actor in the drama, and countless touches showed how deeply he had thought about his role in the cycle, such as the chromatic edge of bite to the March rhythm of Gute Nacht, or the way that, in Letzte Hoffnung, the piano line sounds as expressionistic as Webern.
Both men seemed deeply moved by the strength of the ovation at the end, all of it deserved. I shed a tear several times in listening, and by the end I was wondering whether Winterreise might be the greatest work of art ever created by anyone ever. If an artist can make you think that then they have done pretty well.
The concert was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 and is available to listen again on BBC Sounds until 17th September 2022. The Edinburgh International Festival runs until Sunday 28th August at a variety of venues across the city. Click here for details.