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

boesch-martineau

Florian Boesch (baritone), Malcolm Martineau (piano)

Wigmore Hall, London, 4 July 2016

written by Ben Hogwood

Audio (open in a new window)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07j3vm5

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)

Spotify

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?

Schumann

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’.

Wolf

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’.

Schumann

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.

Encore

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 – Ailish Tynan & Malcolm Martineau in French song

ailish-tynan

Ailish Tynan (soprano, above), Malcolm Martineau (piano)

Wigmore Hall, London, 9 May 2016

written by Ben Hogwood

Audio (open in a new window)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b079m13q

Available until 8 June

What’s the music?

Fauré Cinq mélodies de Venise (1891) (12 minutes)

Debussy Fêtes galantes Set 1 (1892) (7 minutes)

Hahn Fêtes galantes (1892) (2 minutes)

Ravel Sur l’herbe (1907) (2 minutes)

Fauré Clair de lune (1887) (3 minutes)

Hahn À Chloris (1916) (3 minutes)

Poulenc Fiançailles pour rire (1939) (13 minutes)

Spotify

Ailish Tynan has recorded some of the Fauré songs in this recital, and in case the broadcast cannot be heard they are on the playlist below – together with other versions of the songs by Debussy, Poulenc and Hahn:

About the music

The contrast between these Verlaine settings is fascinating. Fauré’s Venetian set is heady music that flows, melodically rich but harmonically even more so, its flowing nature reflecting his ‘barcarolle’ piano writing and the watery setting.

Debussy’s, written just a year later, could almost be from another planet, with deep blue colours invoked by the singer and piano as they explored the mysterious worlds of the poet.

The central selection of songs shows off the abundance of French song writing talent at the turn of the century, while Poulenc’s Fiançailles pour rire, a brief but intensely concentrated cycle and the composer’s most popular for the female voice, explores extremes of emotion. It is a classic example of Poulenc’s bittersweet but utterly compelling ways of word setting.

Performance verdict

malcolm-martineau

Malcolm Martineau (piano)

French song lends itself well to an hour-long recital program, and in Ailish Tynan and Malcolm Martineau’s Wigmore Hall lunchtime concert we explored the extraordinary poetry of Paul Verlaine through the musical eyes of Fauré, Debussy and Hahn.

You would not have known Tynan was standing on for the indisposed Angelika Kirschlagers, so surefooted was her partnership with Martineau, and with her compelling performances, aided by expressive gestures, she took us on an instinctive and fascinating tour.

Fauré’s Venetian songs were glorious, and Tynan’s ability to vary her vibrato was invaluable, while Martineau had the essential Fauré ‘flow’ at the piano.

Debussy’s Fêtes galantes had the requisite mystery, while Hahn’s celebrated A Chloris sparkled in this partnership, but it was in the Poulenc cycle Fiançailles pour rire where Tynan really shone. From the breathless Il vole to the sorrowful Dans l’herbe, where the darkness at the very edge of Poulenc’s music was drawn in, this was a compelling performance. A beautiful encore, Fauré’s Nell, was followed by a characteristically funny introduction to Dave Frishberg’s Another Song About Paris, where both performers’ humour sent the Wigmore Hall audience away smiling.

What should I listen out for?

Fauré

1:38 Mandoline A jaunty song describing the ‘gallant serenaders…beneath singing boughs’. The grey moon at the end is suitably evoked by the flowing piano.

3:32 En sourdine The hazy twilight is immediately obvious in this rather sensual song, with a full timbre from the soprano and an accompaniment typical of Fauré’s broad, flowing style.

6:35 Green A greater urgency to this song, a heady statement of devotion with a spring-like air.

8:25 A Clymène The piano introduction evokes the ‘mystical barcarolles’ of the opening line of this song, an exotic and heavily perfumed statement with some awkward gaps between notes for the singer!

11:05 C’est l’extase This song (translating as ‘It is rapture’) certainly has a rarefied air, the soprano in a higher register as she swoons of the ‘delicate, fresh murmuring’ and the ‘subdued lament’ of two lovers.

Debussy

15:10 En sourdine A very different setting of this poem from Debussy, with a distant, mysterious picture immediately evoked by the piano. The singer is subdued and the tempo is much more deliberate than the Fauré setting.

17:58 Fantoches The swirl of the piano transports us to a completely different world, with quick glances and urgent musical statements, the soprano sweeping up to a top ‘A’ and back towards the end.

19:20 Clair de lune Debussy was to write a more famous Clair de lune for piano alone, but this one is just as evocative of the moonlight, somehow evoking the dark blue colours in its lustrous beauty.

23:29 Hahn Fêtes galantes The clanging octaves of the piano introduce a song that has a similar stop-start feel to the first Fauré song in this concert. The end is brilliantly done.

25:30 Ravel Sur l’herbe This song (which translates as On the lawn) is a rather bizarre Verlaine poem, a conversation between an abbot and some shepherdesses. Ravel captures all the back and forth between the speakers over an elusive piano line.

27:43 Fauré Clair de lune Fauré’s setting of moonlight has more defined lines than Debussy’s, and a longer piano introduction to set the scene, but has an understated beauty, supported again by a flowing accompaniment.

30:47 Hahn À Chloris Hahn’s celebrated love song is clearly influenced by Bach in its stately introduction, after which the soprano sings of pure, unconditional happiness in love. Very much a case of ‘less is more’!

Poulenc

35:09 La Dame d’André A song of uncertainty, describing a man about to marry who worries about his wife and if he’ll love her in the future. Poulenc’s response is appropriately worrisome – but the softer chord at the end suggests he’ll be alright!

36:35 Dans l’herbe A sorrowful and tortured song, particularly in the second verse – though there is a lightness of texture also. This brings in the darkness Poulenc often has at the very edge of his music.

38:38 Il vole Some breathless observations from the soprano in this song, with happiness elusive but not too far away. ‘I want my stealer to steal me’, she concludes.

40:38 Mon cadavre est doux comme un gant Once again a shadow falls over the music, and this strange song of a corpse casts its spell. With long, high notes it is a particularly tricky one for the soprano. Her last note (43:02) is telling, as it resolves the whole song.

43:26 Violon A strange air is around this song, because both soprano and piano operate at the highs and lows of their ranges. There is dark humour, too, as the singer tells of how ‘I love those long wailings’ of the violin. The harmonic language is exotic but restless too, until a clipped chord at the end.

45:27 Fleurs A simple air is around this song, which shows how Poulenc can make beautiful sounds from apparently very little. The text is repeated very quietly to a soft but rather sad close.

Encores

49:02 Fauré Nell (1878) The flowing piano and floated soprano line indicate this is a song of adoration. It is the sort of song that flings the doors wide open, though Fauré’s rapture is always just a little reserved.

51:32 Dave Frishberg Another song about Paris (4 minutes) A classic cabaret song, brilliantly written with just the right amount of humour in text and performance!

Further listening

Ailish Tynan’s disc of Fauré comes highly recommended, and can be heard on Spotify here:

If however you’d like to hear her in the music of her homeland, Ireland, An Irish Album is self-recommending:

Miah Persson – songs for voice, violin and piano at the Wigmore Hall

Miah Persson, Malcolm Martineau and Birgit Kolar perform works by Handel, Donald Waxman and Richard Strauss

miah-persson

Miah Persson (soprano), Malcolm Martineau (piano) and Birgit Kolar (violin) – Wigmore Hall, London & live on BBC Radio 3, 20 April 2015.

Listening link (opens in a new window):

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05qypn8

on the iPlayer until 21 May

Spotify

In case you cannot hear the broadcast, I have put together a Spotify playlist of the songs sung by Miah Persson. She has not recorded any of them as yet, so I have selected suitable alternatives. The playlist can be found here:

spotify:user:arcana.fm:playlist:0GxLX32yLf0mMVTaq7rE1J

What’s the music?

Handel – 3 German Arias (1724-1727) (17 minutes)

Donald Waxman – Lovesongs (1989) (14 minutes)

Richard Strauss – Violin Sonata, Second movement – inspiration (1887) (8 minutes)

Richard StraussSeptember and Beim schlafengehen (from the Four Last Songs)(1948) (10 minutes); Morgen (1894) (4 minutes)

What about the music?

The combination of voice, violin and piano is not heard much in the concert hall these days, but here Miah Persson, Birgit Kolar and Malcolm Martineau constructed a program of compositions using the forces spanning 265 years. A little imagination was required on the part of the listener – particularly in two of the three Strauss songs where the violin was introduced – but otherwise the combination worked well.

Handel’s three German Arias are part of a group of nine he wrote while setting poetry by his friend Heinrich Brokes – and they are his only settings in the language. Each is scored for a singer, a treble instrument (the violin in this case) and ‘continuo’ – which is the group of people supplying either bass line, chords or both. In this case Malcolm Martineau’s piano comfortably fulfilled that discipline.

Donald Waxman celebrates his 90th birthday this year, inviting comparisons with Elliott Carter, the grandest of old men of American music. Waxman’s best known musical currency is the song, and this group of four love songs contains poems about love by Rainer Maria Rilke, Robert Herrick, an anonymous author and Thomas Hardy.

Finally three songs by Richard Strauss, introduced by the luscious, Romantic harmonies of the second movement of his Violin Sonata. Two of the composer’s last songs are chosen as well as an early song, Morgen, which was a wedding present to his wife.

Performance verdict

Miah Persson has a rather special voice, and heard in person at the Wigmore Hall it could easily melt the most stubborn heart.

This program was a slightly curious one, but made sense in the way it was presented. Handel’s word painting was brought to life by Persson in three of the Nine German Arias, which she sang beautifully – restrained but elegant. Meanwhile Donald Waxman’s rich Loveletters offered a more obviously Romantic view of the world and were passionately sung.

The violin was a helpful counterpart here, but was not always at its most useful in the Strauss songs, picking up elements of the orchestral part for which it was written, and ensemble with Martineau was just occasionally scrappy at the beginning and end of songs.

Two of Strauss’s Four Last Songs felt a bit bereft without the others, and despite Malcolm Martineau’s superhuman efforts there was too much going on in the piano version. Morgen, however, was a sumptuous finish to the program.

What should I listen out for?

Handel

1:49 Das zitternde Glänzen der spiegelden Wellen (The shimmering gleam of dancing waves)

This attractive aria begins with a bright violin solo, before a similarly bright entrance from the soprano. The two instruments Martineau’s very sensitive playing brings out the countermelodies when they are needed.

7:53 In den angenehmen Buschen (In these pleasant bushes, where light and shade intermingle)

A shadow falls over the music initially, with a solemn violin solo presumably painting the shade of the text. The bright soprano soars beautifully overhead, however, and finds a rather lovely major key at 9:01, then a brief but really stunning piece of virtuosity to close at 12:11.

13:00 Meine seele hort ihm Sehen (My soul hears through seeing)

‘How all things rejoice and laugh’ is the text during this aria, and Persson seems to be doing just that, her bright voice complemented perfectly by the relative restraint from Kolar and Martineau. This aria, as the BBC Radio 3 announcer Sara Mohr-Pietsch observes, is full of the joys of spring.

Waxman

20:07 Lovesong (Rainer Maria Rilke) – this piece is just for voice and violin and has a curiously exposed feeling, right from the opening notes from the violin. Kolar plays double stopped (more than one note at once) until Persson glides in, at which point she largely switches to a single note. The tonality is often elusive but the song is carefully thought.

23:57 The Mad Maid (Robert Herrick) – the two instruments begin with unhinged figures that threaten to settle into a busy, Stravinsky-like rhythm, with plenty of syncopations – yet the song feels beyond reach, rather like the mind of the maid, right through to its colder conclusion.

28:16 Nocturne (Anon) – a more obviously romantic song. The close interplay between violin and piano leads to a slow, sonorous melody from the singer. There is a much sweeter aftertaste to this encounter.

32:04 A Bygone Occasion (Thomas Hardy) – a festival air to the last song through the busy piano line, with some jazzy elements in the exchanges with violin. Again Persson’s voice is imperious, and joyful too.

Richard Strauss

35:20 – Violin Sonata, Second movement – an improvisatory and rapturous movement for violin and piano, exploring rich harmonies and melodies. The piano part is particularly full-bodied, as though Strauss were writing for a miniature orchestra. A choppy central section introduces some turbulence that rights itself for a return to the main theme.

43:37 – September from the Four Last Songs­ – this may be music of an old man (Strauss was 84 at the time of composition) but it is clearly a man who has enjoyed a good life. Persson sings with real passion, and the note where she comes back in at 45:07 is worth hearing several times!

48:06 – Beim schlafengehen (When falling asleep)­ – the sleep here of course is the ultimate, end-of-life sleep – but Strauss paints a contented picture, as does Persson – though the piano part has a job rendering all the orchestral detail with just two hands! The violin arrives to help at 49:44, upon which the soprano becomes more and more powerful, the vocal line sweeping upwards as though reaching for heaven.

Encore

54:09 – Morgen (Morning) – one of Strauss’s most celebrated songs, and in the intro the listener can almost imagine the sun hovering at the horizon, ready to break through and begin the day. With it comes an atmosphere of intense calm, taken up by Persson.

Want to hear more?

During the Waxman in particular I was put in mind of the songs of Samuel Barber and Aaron Copland, both found on a wonderful disc from the soprano Barbara Bonney, accompanied by none other than André Previn. It can be heard on Spotify here

For more concerts click here