Florian Boesch - Schumann & Mahler: Lieder - Fanfare

One of Florian Boesch’s early recordings with pianist Malcolm Martineau was of Schumann’s other Liederkreis, op. 24, based on poems by Heinrich Heine. Eight years later he recorded the more popular Liederkreis, op. 39, which sets poems by Joseph von Eichendorff. It features a much-recorded single song, “Mondnacht.” Since the 2017 recording wasn’t reviewed in Fanfare and just now has made an appearance in digital format for streams and downloads, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to make a warm recommendation.

The Austrian baritone was in his mid-40s when he recorded this recital of Schumann and Mahler, and despite its short total timing, his singing is exceptional, beginning with Boesch’s beautiful lyric tone. As he showed in the two Schubert cycles that gained him his greatest fame, Winterreise in 2011 and Die schöne Müllerin in 2013, his style is unusually gentle and understated—in that regard Boesch is like the anti-Fischer-Dieskau. His sensitive phrasing and innate musicality carry the day, and he has a gift for immediately communicating with the listener in an intimate bond.

Liederkreis has a range of songs that perfectly suit Boesch’s manner, including “Mondnacht,” whose tricky stepwise vocal line he sings without the slightest difficulty. Where drama is called for, as in “Waldesgespracht” when the young narrator recognizes the witch Lorelei, Boesch opens up his voice, adds more weight, and supplies the necessary shock value. The Schumann group ends with three lesser-known Lieder from the songs Schumann set to texts from Goethe’s second novel, Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship. These are plaintive laments in the Romantic tradition of the lonely hero and call for more intense vocal acting than the Liederkreis songs. Boesch accomplishes this beautifully. For me these three Lieder are the highlight of the recital.

As familiar as Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfarer are, Boesch has a talent for personal interpretation, which he exhibits here, making the music sound absolutely fresh. Just as much originality goes into Martineau’s pianism, which is also superlative in the Schumann Lieder. The two partners are comfortable enough with each other that Martineau can perform almost like a soloist while Boesch keeps up with every gesture of phrase-shaping. They turn the agonized song “Ich hab’ ein glühend Messer” into a tragedy in miniature with great effectiveness. I doubt I’ve ever heard a better account of this cycle in its version with piano in place of the ubiquitous orchestration. Mention must be made of Boesch’s native German, because his way with all these texts is quite imaginative.

In sum, this recital is as close to ideal as any I’ve encountered and is a must-listen for lovers of Lieder. At listening sites like Naxos you can download the booklet complete with texts and translations. ©

02 November 2021