Wigmore Mondays – Florian Boesch & Malcolm Martineau in Schumann & Wolf


Florian Boesch (baritone), Malcolm Martineau (piano)

Wigmore Hall, London, 4 July 2016

written by Ben Hogwood

Audio (open in a new window)


Available until 3 August

What’s the music?

Schumann Die beiden Grenadiere Op.49/1; Abends am Strand Op.45/3; Die feindlichen Brüder Op.49/2

Märzveilchen Op.40/1; Muttertraum Op.40/2; Der Soldat Op.40/3; Der Spielmann Op.40/4 (all 1840) (20 minutes)

Wolf Goethe Lieder: Der Schäfer; Phänomen; Wandrers Nachtlied; Anakreons Grab; Harfenspieler I – III (18 minutes)

Schumann Belsatzar Op.57 (1840) (5 minutes)


Florian Boesch has recorded a disc of Schumann but only one of the songs in this concert (Belsatzar). Here is a playlist containing all of the songs, using recordings made by the great baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau:

About the music

1840 was an extraordinary year for Robert Schumann’s musical productivity. His so-called ‘year of song’, it saw him write 138 songs in total – including the eight in this recital program. Among the choice are four settings of Heine, which certainly preyed on the composer’s dark side.

In a similar vein, the year 1888 was a hugely productive one for the song composer Hugo Wolf. The tenor Ian Bostridge wrote this very fine introduction to the songs of Wolf for the Guardian in 2006. He wrote a whole songbook setting some of Goethe’s poetry, collected in 22 songs through 1888 and 1889, in the composer’s late twenties. The seven we hear are illustrations of the composer’s ability to combine melodic originality and a piano part that helps set the words in context, including the three songs of the downtrodden harpist.

Performance verdict

Florian Boesch’s baritone is an extraordinary instrument, and it is perfectly suited to the darker recesses of these Schumann settings, especially the Heine songs. Here is some of the composer’s most descriptive vocal music, and it is incredibly effective in this performance, not just for Boesch’s insights but for Malcolm Martineau’s ever colourful piano pictures. Here the colours are predominantly grey and black, but the steely edge to his lower register tone is crucial to the impact of the text and makes the moments of lighter relief – for there are a few! – ever more telling.

Similar forces are at work in the music of Wolf, which Boesch brings to thoughtful life. He is particularly effective in the slower songs such as Wandrers Nachtlied, where he and Martineau exhibit wonderful control of the drawn out phrases.

What should I listen out for?


1:48 Die beiden Grenadiere (The two grenadiers) text

The piano’s terse introduction is quickly picked up by the baritone, who sings of the battle in dark tones. At 4:18 the song breaks into the melody of La Marseillaise, as the French grenadier expresses his wish to be buried on home soil should he die.

5:13 Abends am Strand text

A chilling song.

8:47 Die feindlichen Brüder (The hostile brothers) text

The singer and piano are closely aligned here. Initially the mood is a brooding one in preparation for the brothers’ fight, but then hostilities break out and the tempo quickens considerably, the piano stooping ever lower, well below the range of the singer.

11:20 Märzveilchen Op.40/1 (March violets) text

The mood lightens a little for Schumann’s celebration of the flowers, described by the poet as ‘a pair of laughing blue eyes’.

12:54 Muttertraum Op.40/2 (A Mother’s Dream) (Adelbert von Chamisso) text

The piano part is characteristically intimate for this soft reverie – but the peace does not last long, for there is a dark side in the form of a raven outside the window (from 14:10) at which point the singer’s tone gets progressively darker, to the depths of the end.

15:26 Der Soldat Op.40/3 (The Soldier) (Adelbert von Chamisso) text

There is a military air from the start of the piano introduction, with fanfares and ceremony, but again the mood is steely dark, right through to the drama of the bullets fired in the last verse, where the poet ‘shot him through the heart’.

18:20 Der Spielmann Op.40/4 (The Fiddler) (Adelbert von Chamisso) text

There are bright festivities at the start of this song, but again it is not long until darker thoughts emerge, the baritone sinking lower in his range as he sings of the bride of the story, who ‘looks like whitewashed death’.


23:29 Der Schäfer (The Shephard) text

A darkly humourous song about a lazy shepherd, set by Wolf with some far-reaching harmonies and lazily decorated piano lines.

24:57 Phänomen (Phenomenon) text

A slow song, offering consolation at its end.

26:52 Wandrers Nachtlied (Wanderer’s Night Song) text

A slow and deeply sorrowful song, with long, drawn-out phrases – completed by Martineau’s soft postlude, lost in thought.

30:06 Anakreons Grab (Anakreon’s Grave) text

The contemplation at Anacreon’s Grave is not as sorrowful as one might think, ‘beautifully graced with verdant life’ in Goethe’s words. The song speaks of rest rather than torment.

32:45 Harfenspieler I text

Not surprisingly the piano imitates the harp beautifully at the start, though the vocal line that follows is quite stern, the singer imploring ‘leave me to my torment’!

36:25 Harfenspieler II text

Another predominantly slow setting, portraying a wretched man with dark tone in the singer’s voice and a reserved piano part.

38:49 Harfenspieler III text

The most dramatic of the three Harfenspieler settings, a tormented singer, in ringing tones, lamenting how the heavenly powers ‘let the wretched man feel guilt’.


43:26 Belsatzar (Belshazzar) text

This extraordinary song runs through a whole gamut of moods and emotions. It begins with the Babylonian king singing with great bravado, his boasting and the piano’s tumbling figures adding to the sense of giddiness. At 45:24 he proclaims, ‘I am the king of Babylon!’ After this the song turns, the king fearful, until the famous writing on the wall passage, which sends a chill through the spine from 46:17. There is no coming back from here for the king, murdered by the end.


49:45 Described as ‘Twitter of the nineteenth century’ by Florian Boesch, this is Schumann’s Verratene Liebe Op 40/5 – another von Chamisso text – and it’s over in 45 seconds!

Further listening

Florian Boesch is a remarkable talent – and has forged a formidable partnership with Malcolm Martineau. Here they are in a complete album of Schumann, including the first of the composer’s Liederkreis cycles:

Wigmore Mondays – Benjamin Appl & Graham Johnson


Benjamin Appl (baritone) and Graham Johnson (piano) perform settings of the poetry of Joseph von Eichendorff

Wigmore Hall, London

Monday, 4 January 2016

Audio (open in a new window)


Available until 3 February

What’s the music?

Schumann (1810-1856): Frühlingsfahrt Op.45/2 (1840); Der Einsiedler Op.83/3 (1850; Der frohe Wandersmann Op.77/1 (1840)

Mendelssohn (1809-1847): Pagenlied (1832); Nachtlied Op.71/6 (1847); Wanderlied Op.57/6 (1841)

Brahms (1833-1897): In der Fremde Op.3/5; Mondnacht; Parole Op.7/2; Anklänge Op.7/3 (all 1852-1853)

Pfitzner (1869-1949): In Danzig Op.22/1 (1907); Der Gärtner Op.9/1 (1888-9); Zum Abschied meiner Tochter Op.10/3 (1901)

Wolf (1860-1903): Nachruf (1880); Das Ständchen; Der Musikant; Der Scholar; Der Freund (all 1888)


Benjamin Appl has not yet recorded any of this repertoire, but a reproduction of his program using available versions can be accessed below, for listeners who cannot hear the BBC broadcast. Where possible I have used recordings made by Appl’s mentor, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau:

About the music


Joseph von Eichendorff (picture used courtesy of Wikipedia)

With around 5,000 song settings of Joseph von Eichendorff’s poetry from the 19th century alone – with thanks to BBC Radio 3 announcer Sara Mohr-Pietsch for the info! – Benjamin Appl and Graham Johnson had no trouble making up a concert of 18 ‘lieder’ for the first Wigmore Hall lunchtime concert of the year.

Their choice gives an intriguing insight into different approaches to the poet. Broadly speaking, Schumann ranges from love-laden to thoughtful and a little morose (though his selection comprises three prayers), Mendelssohn is either forthright or reflective in his three songs; the youthful Brahms is surprisingly relaxed, while Pfitzner emerges as an inventive painter. Perhaps the most striking examples here come from Hugo Wolf, who wanted to focus on the ‘comparatively unknown humourously and robustly sensual side’ of von Eichendorff’s poetry.

Performance verdict

A slightly downbeat return for the WIgmore Hall in 2016, but a concert that was beautifully performed. The pairing of an incredibly experienced pair of hands in Graham Johnson and a singer starting out on his artistic voyage in Benjamin Appl was a good match and yielded many rewards.

Several songs left lasting impressions from the program, among them two from Brahms, with Appl’s control throughout Mondnacht and the picture painting from Johnson in Parole especially notable.

It was good to hear some rarely-sung lieder of Hans Pfitzner, whose use of the piano’s lowest end brought a wholly new texture to In Danzig, while the Wolf selection reminded us how original he could be in his song settings, the piano cast in a prominent role of scene setting, one that Johnson relished and used to his great advantage.

What should I listen out for?


2:06 – Frühlingsfahrt (A spring journey) – the initial optimism of this march is quite bracing, but it soon subsides as the poet thinks of old age.

5:31 – Der Einsiedler (The hermit) – quite a sad song, solemn and lost in thought. Again old age is a preoccupation, the piano supporting the vocal melody as a walking stick might support the physical frame.

9:02 – Der frohe Wandersmann (The happy wanderer) – a much more positive, open-air march that talks of streams ‘rushing down the mountains’ and larks that ‘soar heavenwards’. More spring than winter!


11:03 – Pagenlied (Page’s song) – a tentative detached figure in the piano part adds to the tension of this song, which is relatively subdued and distracted.

13:11 – Nachtlied (Night song) – there is a withdrawn feel to this song also, until the Nightingale is encouraged to sing out at 14:39.

16:12 – Wanderlied (Song of travel) – a typically busy piano part from Mendelssohn gives the impression of rapid movement, the traveller set on his way with the minimum of fuss – and happily so!


20:49 – In der Fremde (In a foreign land) – a rather downcast setting in a minor key, the poet in reflective mood. The piano hints at a major key near the end but such thoughts are quickly forgotten.

22:12 – Mondnacht (Moonlight) – dappled piano lines suggest moonlight in the branches, and there is a more romantic mood, with yearning vocal lines.

25:03 – Parole (Password) – again Brahms thinks privately, using vivid picture painting from the piano that depicts the huntsman through distant calls but also the ‘one last shot’ (26:44), where Johnson adds extra emphasis.

28:02 – Anklänge (Echoes) – a short but evocative song of two halves, the first depicting a lonely house in a forest, the second greeting the maiden inside.


30:07 – In Danzig – the mood changes dramatically in this darkly coloured song exploiting the lower range of both piano and singer. The mysterious and faintly menacing mood is aided by elusive harmonic movements.

34:38 – Der Gärtner (The Gardener)­ – this song is more conventional in its language, looking back to Schumann and Brahms. The mood is positive and quite dreamy, but reaches a very impressive climax at the end with the words ‘Viel schöne, hohe Fraue, Grüss ich dich tausendmal’ (‘I, lovely gracious lady, greet you a thousand times’)

38:08 – Zum Abschied meiner Tochter (Farewell to my daughter) – a positive farewell, and an expansive setting that reaches another impressive climax at 40:07.


42:58 – Nachruf (In memoriam) – the piano imitates the lute in this song as Appl sings a gentle lament

47:06 Das Ständchen (The serenade) – a watery piano introduces an adventurous setting that contains the tune of a serenade but some unconventional dissonances between voice and piano. There is a great deal of sadness in this song.

50:27 – Der Musikant (The minstrel) – the choice of music over marriage is made here by the singer! As if to emphasise his decision there is a rather lovely piano introduction that proves to be the bedrock of the song.

52:14 – Der Scholar (The scholar) – there are a number of examples of picture painting in the piano part for this song, depicting the ‘little birds’ and the rain that ‘rattles on the leaves’. Again the singer extols the virtues of making music but occasionally with a few too many wines! (53:40)

54:55 – Der Freund (The friend) – The joy of friendship is celebrated here, though not without travelling through a storm or two (55:30) where the crushing piano and loud voice descend into brief turmoil before emerging triumphant.

Encore (not heard on the broadcast)

Verschwiegene Liebe (Silent Love) The twinkling piano introduction was followed here by a sensitive and grateful rendition from Appl.

Further listening

As a complement to the concert, how about a recital based on poems by Heinrich Heine? Anothre great influence on 19th century vocal music, Heine’s music was set by a number of composers – and here the great tenor Christoph Prégardien and fortepianist Andreas Staier look at songs by Schubert, Schumann and Mendelssohn:

Wigmore Hall Portrait Gallery – Christiane Karg and Gerold Huber

Wigmore Hall Portrait Gallery – Christiane Karg and Gerold Huber perform an intricate sequence of portraits of literary figures by Wolf, Brahms, Richard Strauss, Hahn and Duparc

christiane-karg-gerold-huberChristiane Karg and Gerold Huber – Wigmore Hall, live on BBC Radio 3, 9 February 2015. Photos © Steven Haberland / Albert Lindmeier

Listening link (opens in a new window):


on the iPlayer until 8 April

For non-UK listeners, this Spotify playlist is available:

For those unable to hear the broadcast I have put together a Spotify playlist. Christiane has recorded the Strauss songs but nothing else from the program, so I have chosen suitable available versions:

What’s the music?

Wolf4 Mignon Lieder (1888) (15 minutes)

Brahms and Richard Strauss – Ophelia Lieder (interspersed – the music is Brahms’ 5 Ophelia-Lieder (1873) and Strauss’s 3 Ophelia Lieder Op.67 (1918) followed by Saint-SaënsLa mort d’Ophélie (1857) (14 minutes in total)

Hahn – 3 songs (Lydé (1900), A Chloris (1916) and Séraphine (1896) (8 minutes)

Duparc – 2 songs (Phidylé (1882), Romance de Mignon (1869) (9 minutes)

What about the music?

Ophelia by John Everett Millais (1852) is part of the Tate Gallery collection. His painting influenced the image in Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet.

This is a really well chosen program from Karg and Huber, justifying the singer’s burning of the midnight oil (in the announcer’s anecdote!) to come up with some vivid character portraits that draw the casual listener in through the links between the songs. This is surely how a song recital should be structured.

Thanks to their enterprise we get an interesting blend of Romantic Lieder – that is, nineteenth century song writing that is much more obviously expressive. German composers are strongly represented, beginning with Wolf’s four settings of Goethe, and his poems on the tragic figure of Mignon.

Then our gaze turns to Ophelia, by way of five early Brahms Lieder and three late, eccentric interpretations by Richard Strauss – before a French alternative from Saint-Saëns.

Finally the heady fragrance of three sublime songs from Hahn and two more substantial, meaty efforts from Duparc clinch a consistently engaging recital.

Performance verdict

On this evidence – listening on the radio rather than in the hall – Karg and Huber are ideally matched. Their delivery is especially emotive during the Wolf, where the soprano inhabits a lot of the distress and strife handed out to Mignon.

It is a great idea to fuse the portraits of Ophelia in this way, and anyone approaching Brahms songs for the first time would be surprised at the brevity and simplicity of them. They contrast nicely with the Richard Strauss examples, where Karg shows a lot of vocal agility without ever losing control.

The French songs are sumptuous, especially the Hahn, throwing open the doors to let in some Spring light.

What should I listen out for?


The words for these songs can be found here

1:55 – Heiss mich nicht reden (Bid me not speak) – the first Mignon setting moves in unexpected harmonic directions, never really sure of itself as Mignon seeks peace ‘in the arms of a friend’. Judging by the piano postlude this is not found.

5:04 – Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt (Only those who know yearning) – a sombre minor-key opening from the piano.

7:25 – So lasst mich scheinen (Let me seem to be an angel) – a cold piano sound and a distracted vocal. Again the harmonies move restlessly, as does the melody, the song in a dream state but not at rest either.

10:47 – Kennst du das Land (Do you know the land)– a rather more positive outlook in this relatively relaxed song until a sudden outburst from the piano, which on its second appearance follows a particularly fraught passage from the soprano.

Brahms / Richard Strauss

The words for the Brahms can be found here, and for the Richard Strauss here

18:57 – the first of five very brief Brahms songs – this one a thoughtful melody with singer and piano together.

19:42 – the second Brahms song, a mere 20 seconds!

20:06 – the first Strauss song inhabits a weird world of a piano part seemingly cut loose from its moorings, and a melody that doesn’t have an obvious resting point. Mysterious but intriguingly so.

22:37 – the third Brahms song, a much brighter affair.

23:12 – the second Strauss song trips along in a state of high agitation but is perhaps too short to make a sustained impact.

24:44 – the fourth Brahms song, another incredibly brief number – but beautifully delivered here.

25:32 – the fifth Brahms song – even though it is a minute long there is still a distinctive melody here.

26:49 – the third Strauss song, and a deeply mysterious one that casts its spell immediately through the piano line, broken momentarily by outbursts in the middle and at the end.


29:58 – an urgent song from the French composer, with the high soprano voice doubled by the left hand of the piano.


The words for the Hahn songs are to be found here

35:04 – Lydé – a much more positive outlook is immediately evident in this song, with an open air texture and bright vocal. There is a grand piano postlude, and what sounds like a wrong note.

37:50 – A Chloris – a twinkling piano introduction has a melodic ornamentation that takes its lead from Bach’s AIr on the G string before the soprano arrives in a lower register. A contemplative song, one of Hahn’s very best, this is beautifully sung by Karg. The interaction with the piano is ideal.

40:33 – Séraphine – a calm and radiant atmosphere runs through the third Hahn song.


The words for the Duparc songs can be found here

43:28 – Phidylé – Karg sounds imperious in her control of the fuller melody that makes the second part of this song. The exotic musical language is very much in thrall to Wagner, and reaches its peak with high notes and turbulent, stormy piano writing.

48:15 – Romance de Mignon – another perfumed song, but this is an early song suppressed by the composer. Duparc writes so well for the voice.


54:00 – Schubert’s Gretchen am Spinnrade – going back to the first composer to write about the ‘mad woman’ Mignon, as Karg describes her. Huber shapes the piano part superbly under Karg’s urgent vocal.

Want to hear more?

It is difficult to suggest another step after such an intriguing and well-thought program, but underneath the songs of on the Spotify link above are further possibilities – including Wolf’s remarkable Prometheus, Brahms’s Four Serious Songs, in a legendary recording from Jessye Norman, and to finish some more Duparc.

For more concerts click here