Florian Boesch/Graham Johnson review – Schubert song series opens with a brilliant, unsparing evening

Wigmore Hall, London
Baritone Florian Boesch and pianist Graham Johnson, both exceptional communicators, were on peak form for this Schubert song recital

The Wigmore Hall is embarking on a major survey of Schubert’s complete songs, a big project entailing some 40 concerts over the next two years. The series opened with a fine recital by baritone Florian Boesch and pianist Graham Johnson, both exceptional communicators, on peak form.

They began at the beginning with Schubert’s first song, Lebenstraum, written when he was only 12, and setting a prolix text by one Gabriele von Baumberg about “the holy race of singers from times both old and new”. He left it unfinished – Boesch and Johnson performed it as a fragment – and it’s no masterpiece, though its opening piano chords have a bittersweet quality prophetic of much that followed.

Thereafter, the programme traced the outline of Schubert’s career in two big sequences of songs, some familiar, others not, beginning with Der Fischer of 1815 and closing with Das Lied im Grünen of 1827. In between came some little-known gems: five songs written in 1816 to texts by Johann Georg Jacobi that depict the progress of an affair from desire to disillusionment; and the difficult, depressive Der Sieg, with its contemplation of suicide.

Never one to rest on laurels, Boesch constantly strove for new subtleties of meaning and expression. For the Jacobi settings, he used a complex tonal palette that shifted from silk to steel as love turned sour. Both Der Tod und Das Mädchen and Auf der Donau involved thrilling descents into a cavernous bass register that I didn’t know he possessed. Totengräber’s Heimweh was an unnerving glimpse into the expressionistic world that late Schubert so disquietingly pre-empts. Johnson, as one might expect, brought a lifetime’s experience and understanding to bear on it all. A brilliant, unsparing evening, that bodes wonderfully well for what’s to come.


Tim Ashley

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Florian Boesch/Malcolm Martineau – review
Boesch and Martineau reunited triumphantly for a performance of another Schubert song cycle, writes Tim Ashley

Tim Ashley

22, Mar, 2012 @6:30 PM

Article image
Allan Clayton and Paul Lewis review – Schubert given real edge
The tenor and pianist combined to moody effect for a Schubert song cycle that grew in power as the recital progressed

Andrew Clements

30, Apr, 2015 @10:56 AM

Christopher Maltman and Graham Johnson – review
This was a powerhouse recital of Schiller settings by Schubert, Schuman and Liszt from the baritone Christopher Maltman and pianist Graham Johnson, writes Tim Ashley

Tim Ashley

13, Sep, 2011 @9:07 AM

Article image
Simon Keenlyside/Emanuel Ax review – a poignant and powerful Winterreise
The baritone drew on his actorly skills for Schubert’s song cycle, sensitively supported by Ax’s beautifully judged accompaniment, writes Martin Kettle

Martin Kettle

23, Oct, 2014 @11:48 AM

Article image
Kiss Me, Kate; Florian Boesch and Graham Johnson; the Tallis Scholars’ 2000th concert – review
Opera North rethinks Cole Porter. Plus, Boesch and Johnson, and the Tallis Scholars give their 2000th concert

Kate Kellaway

27, Sep, 2015 @7:30 AM

Article image
From Schubert to Sinatra: why the song cycle speaks to the heart
A new English version of Die Schöne Müllerin offers a reminder as to why it’s Sinatra – not his classical contemporaries – that matches Schubert in ambition

Christopher Fox

07, Oct, 2016 @2:00 PM

Christopher Maltman/Graham Johnson | Classical review
Wigmore Hall, London
Christopher Maltman brought his survey of Schubert's late song cycles to a close with this considered, strikingly unusual performance of Schwanengesang, the composer's final collection, writes Tim Ashley

Tim Ashley

22, Apr, 2010 @8:50 PM

Article image
Christopher Maltman/Graham Johnson review – every second was outstanding
Maltman’s all-Schubert recital focused on epic rarities. He’s a natural storyteller, and was more than matched by pianist Graham Johnson

Tim Ashley

07, Jan, 2016 @1:50 PM

Classical review: Schubert Ensemble, Wilton's Music Hall, London

Wilton's Music Hall, London
The closeness of players to public is intimate yet exposing, says Tim Ashley

Tim Ashley

14, Jun, 2009 @11:01 PM

Article image
Boesch/Vignoles review – Austrian baritone works wonders with rarely heard Krenek
Florian Boesch and Roger Vignoles proved their exceptional talents in this unforgettable recital of a 1929 work by Austrian modernist Ernst Krenek, writes Tim Ashley

Tim Ashley

01, Feb, 2015 @4:20 PM