Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Florian Boesch Wigmore Hall Prometheus Schubert Wolf

Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau gave a challenging lunchtime recital at the Wigmore Hall yesterday, framed by two different versions of Goethe's Prometheus.

Martineau defined the mood of Schubert's Prometheus with granite-like chords.  Boesch's voice floated in quietly, all the more impressive for its restraint.  Prometheus has the world on his shoulders, he can't flinch.

Boesch's Grenzen von Menscheit was outstanding, as if the whole programme had been planned around it. This long, difficult song is often the preserve of bass baritones who emphasize its dark qualities. Boesch, however, brings out its optimism, which might, to some, be shocking. The piano introduction  begins with slow, plodding chords, reminiscent of Prometheus.  Yet Boesch shaped the opening lines with surprising tenderness, anticipating the sudden leap skywards on the word "Wolken"  The Heavenly Father is sending thunderbolts, but "mit gelassener Hand". So Boesch sang the words "segnende Blitze" employing the agility in his voice to suggest a caress.

The last four lines in the first two strophes are repeated, suggesting that the protagonist is trapped, dragged down by his burdens.  Men cannot compete with Gods. Then a transition, where Goethe repeats the words "Wellen" and Schubert  creates rolling phrases to suggest  invisible tides. "Ein kleiner Ring" sang Boesch,"Begrenzt unser Leben, und viele Geschlechter reihen sich dauernd Aa ihres Daseins..." Tremendous breath control and dignity. "Unendliche Kette." Individual men may be doomed to struggle, and to drown, but some invisible power, like the tides of the ocean, ensures that mankind will be replenished. Boesch showed how Grenzen der Menscheit, in its quiet, understated way, isn't so much about the limitations of Mankind, but about endlessly renewed horizons.

Boesch and Martineau did Wolf's Drei Gedichte von Michelangelo which Matthias Goerne and Andreas Haefliger performed at the Wigmore Hall last October (more here).  Goerne and Haefliger were exceptional, as one would expect.  In the more relaxed setting of a lunchtime recital, Boesch asnd Martineau could afford to "merely" be very good. A relative term, as these are performers of the highest calibre.  Besides, they were saving up for Wolf's Prometheus. Wolf's setting is ferocious, almost manic in its rage against the fate of the Titan, whose crime was to give light to Mankind. One can understand why Wolf, a man of extremes, would identify with Prometheus. Pounding piano figures, and demands on the voice that would frighten lesser singers.

Wolf emphasizes defiance. Martineau's playing was demonic, Boesch's singing intense and emotionally ravaged.  "Hier sitz' ich, forme Menschen Nach meinem Bilde. Ein Geschlecht, das mir gleich sei, Zu leiden, zu weinen, Zu genießen und zu freuen sich Und dein nicht zu achten, Wie ich!"  Wolf knew about Nietzsche and his fate, so similar to Wolf's own. This insight makes the interpretation of the song even more poignant. With his sensitivity to text, Wolf would have connected his own creativity (and frustration) with Prometheus's mission to create a new race of men.

Prometheus, Michelangelo, the protagonist in  Grenzen von Menscheit and Wilhelm Meister, the Harpist in the Schubert Harfenspieler songs earlier in the recital, share in common stubborn persistence in the face of adversity. They create, therefore they live, even if they are themselves effaced. This programme was wonderfully well thought through and will, no doubt, in time mature into a larger conceptual collection.
The recital ended with Hugo Wolf Gebet. "Herr, schicke, was du willst,", the poet challenges God. But the poet is Eduard Mörike whose wry humanity appealed so much to Wolf. "Doch in der Mitten liegt holdes Bescheiden". Happiness doesn't come from extremes but from being "in the middle", knowing one's boundaries.

Please also see
Luca Pisaroni Italian Lieder
Christoph Prégardien Magic and Mayhem

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