Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Review: You Promised Me Everything

Richard Taruskin entitled his 1988 polemical critique of the notion of ‘authenticity’ in the context of historically informed performance, ‘The Pastness of the Present and the Presence of the Past’.

Manon Lescaut, Munich

Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera.

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)

The Maid of Pskov (Pskovityanka) , St. Petersburg

I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at Tsarskoye Selo.

Prom 11 — Grange Park Opera: Fiddler on the Roof

As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.

Saul, Glyndebourne

A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage

Roberta Invernizzi, Wigmore Hall

‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.

Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre Re

Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high. 

Prom 4: Andris Nelsons

The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution of the CBSO to this concert.

BBC Proms: The Cardinall’s Musick

When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities, upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in service of his God and his monarch.

Oberon, Persephone and Iolanta at the Aix Festival

Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.

Betrothal and Betrayal : JPYA at the ROH

The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.

Jenůfa Packs a Wallop at DMMO

There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.

Des Moines Fanciulla a Minnie-Triumph

The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.

Des Moines: A Whole Other Secret Garden

With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.

Seductive Abduction in Iowa

Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Garsington Opera

Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question. Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.

Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Florian Boesch [Photo by Stefan von der Deken]
03 Apr 2011

Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau gave the finest recital so far in the Wigmore Hall’s decade by decade series of German Song.

German Song Decade by Decade 1870-80

Florian Boresch, Malcolm Martineau. Wigmore Hall, London, 30th March 2011

Above: Florian Boesch [Photo by Stefan von der Deken]

 

This time the focus was on songs written between 1870 and 1880. It’s a transitional period, dominated not by the unification of Germany but by Richard Wagner. Wagner’s impact was overwhelming. Intensely loved or loathed, his influence redefined the terms of art song. Boesch and Martineau chose a programme based on Brahms, Liszt and Hugo Wolf, to illustrate different responses to Wagner’s presence.

Brahms was an intimate of Eduard Hanslick, so he was somewhat immune. Yet one might be tempted to read Wagner’s hothouse passions into Brahms’s 8 Lieder und Gesänge op 57, as Susan Youens mentions in her programme notes. “All of these poems”, she writes, “are intensely erotic, and some of Brahms’s prissier contemporaries were offended…But the red thread we trace through these 8 songs is that of a lover who must contain his sexual desire without ever knowing whether his patience will be rewarded”.

In “Unbewegte laue luft”, (op 57/8) the heaving bosoms in the text indicate what “heavenly satisfactions” are in store, but the music itself is more restrained. Brahms seems more interested in somnolent Nocturne than erotic excess. The piano part develops like slow footsteps, each third chord in downward tread. Brahms depicts the fountain’s ripples and increases the tempo as the poet speaks of meeting his beloved. Fischer-Dieskau’s version of this song is decidedly chaste. Boesch infuses it with more personal intimacy, but the mood is still much deeper than lust.

What Wagner might have made of these poems by Georg Friedrich Daumer! In “Die Schnur, die Perl’ and Perle” (op 57/7) a pearl necklace “weigt sie sich so fröhlich”, rocks happily on the breast denied to the lover. Brahms doesn’t overextend his hand, so to speak. Boesch is discreet, warming the words gently, without exaggeration. Indeed, the most “Brahmsian” of these songs is “Es träumte mir” (op 57/3) almost a miniature, so delicate is its mood. Boesch almost whispers the repeat “Es sei ein Traum”, and Martineau’s piano expresses what words cannot say.

Boesch and Martineau also performed a mixed group of Brahms songs which enhanced Brahms’s aesthetic restraint. “Mondenschein” (op 85/2, Heine) came over with the reverence of a prayer. Brahms’s God resided in nature. More images of coolness, stillness and depth. In “Dein blaues Auge” (op 59/8) the beloved’s eyes are “as limpid as a lake, and like a lake so cool”. Boesch sings with such lucidity that the chill feels calm and sane. Not Tristan und Isolde. In “O kühler Wald “(op 72/3), “in Schmerzen schlief der Widerhall, die Lieder sind verweht”. Even an echo falls silent, and songs have blown away. Brahms could not have created Seigfried, talking to the birds.

Liszt’s connection to Wagner was obviously more complex. For a composer who was by instinct a pianist, Liszt makes great efforts to engage with words rather than succumb to pianist flourish. Gebet (S331) is a prayer, half spoken, the vocal part undecorated. As the penitent submits himself to God, the piano introduces a change of mood. At the end, Boesch sings “Mir wird so leicht, so leicht”, each phrase separated for emphasis. It’s as if he’s connecting to a spiritual presence we cannot see.

Hugo Wolf worshipped Wagner, and indeed managed to get into Wagner’s hotel to meet his hero, the way teenage rock star groupies might do. Boesch and Martineau chose Wolf’s earliest published songs, to texts by Heine, written when he was around 17. The poems offer dramatic possibilities - ships with great black sails in stormy seas, a shadow stalking a party, Hussars blowing trumpets. Already you can detect the germ of Wolf’s later vignettes. Not for nothing was Wolf called “The Wagner of the Lied”. Because these songs are so early, they need to be performed with particular care, and often don’t get the treatment they deserve. Boesch and Martineau take them seriously, and make them wholly convincing.

Two other composers were included in this programme. Zdeněk Fibich, much influenced by Wagner and the German side of his upbringing, wrote the opera Šárka which still sometimes surfaces in performance. In this recital, he was represented by Loreley a song to Heine’s text. It’s set dramatically, welling waves and wild, almost contrapuntal crescendo — a melodrama in miniature.

Friedrich Gernsheim (1839-1916) is much less familiar. Apparently he had connections to Brahms, and wrote mainly non-vocal music. Boesch and Martineau chose two songs (also Heine), Es war ein alte König and Es fällt ein Sterne herunter. Both attempt to dramatize the songs to a great degree — falling starlight figures in the piano part, for example. Martineau, however, stops them from feeling heavy handed, and Boesch stresses the lilt in words like “Apfelbaume” to liven the mood.

Intelligent encores, too, with a nod to the future of Lieder. Wolf’s Anakreon’s Grab (1890) and Brahms’s Da Unter im Tal (1894), proof yet again that simplicity and restraint can be exquisite.

The concert was recorded for broadcast on BBC Radio 3 online and on demand, later this Spring. If you hear strange ringing on the recording, it’s a mobile phone which rang at least four times. Accidents happen, so I won’t get irate. But it’s a reminder to switch off and double check every time without fail.

Anne Ozorio

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):