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Opera
SPARKLING CIMAROSA OPERA HIGHLIGHTS MENDOCINO MUSIC FESTIVAL
by Kathryn Stewart
Friday, July 13, 2018
The Classical music era was a time of extraordinary innovation. Dominated by composers from the German-speaking countries, the period witnessed the handiwork of masterpieces by two classical giants, Haydn and Mozart. Both composers put forth a tremendous catalog of masterful works and perhaps to our...
Symphony
!PURA VIDA! A SONIC TRIUMPH FOR SO CO PHIL IN THRILLING COSTA RICA TOUR CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Long anticipated events, such as a great sporting game, gourmet feast, holiday trip or a concert, occasionally fall way short of expectations. The results don’t measure to expectations. With the Sonoma County Philharmonic’s Costa Rica concert June 19, the performance exceeded any heated or tenuou...
Symphony
SO CO PHIL BON VOYAGE CONCERT AN ODYSSEY OF CONTRASTING SOUND
by Terry McNeill
Friday, June 15, 2018
In a splashy bon voyage concert June 15 the Sonoma County Philharmonic Orchestra launched its June 17-25 Costa Rica tour, performing gratis in Santa Rosa’s Jackson Theater the repertoire for tour concerts in San José, Costa Rica’s capital, and in surrounding towns. Conductor Norman Gamboa pr...
Chamber
COMMANDING CHOPIN AND DEBUSSY IN SLV RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, June 06, 2018
Concerts at the classy Spring Lake Village Retirement Home in Santa Rosa have admission limited to residents and a few guests, but the chance to hear a first cabin North Bay pianist June 6 brought a Classical Sonoma reviewer into the audience of 100. The crowd numbers were unusually low due to a ba...
Recital
MUSICAL ALCHEMY INSIDE A HIDDEN GEM
by Kayleen Asbo
Friday, May 25, 2018
The Petaluma Historical Library and Museum is a hidden gem of Sonoma County, a gracious building that is one of Sonoma County’s loveliest venues for chamber music concerts, with a fine period piano particularly suited to Romantic music.  Of the surprisingly large array of festivities there, one of t...
Chamber
FINAL VOM MUSICIANS CONCERT IN SCHROEDER A SCHUBERT DELIGHT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, May 12, 2018
It's rare to have the opportunity to compare in a short period two performances of the same major Schubert work, in this case the great B Flat Piano Trio, D. 898. The chance came May 12 when the Valley of the Moon Festival musicians played it in Schroeder, just over a month since the Hall’s residen...
Symphony
FERRANDIS BIDS ADIEU WITH MAHLER’S FINAL SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, May 06, 2018
Sonoma State students in graduation robes posed for pictures and hugged each other at the university’s stone gates on Sunday afternoon, mirroring the prolonged farewells within the university’s Green Music Center, where Bruno Ferrandis bid adieu to the Santa Rosa Symphony after a dozen years at the ...
Symphony
SONIC SPLENDOR AT MARIN SYMPHONY SEASON FINALE
by Abby Wasserman
Tuesday, May 01, 2018
The Marin Symphony Orchestra ended the current season with a flourish, interpreting big and small works by Richard Strauss and Stravinsky. Strauss and Stravinsky were contemporaries for 40 years, but inhabited different worlds. Both composers were affected by cataclysmic changes and war, and musical...
Symphony
ORGAN SYMPHONY IN SSU ORCHESTRA CONCERT IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 29, 2018
Though Classical Sonoma seldom reviews student concerts, as ample North Coast concerts keep the staff of 11 reviewers busy. But the chance to hear the Sonoma State University Orchestra tackle St. Saëns’ majestic Organ Symphony April 29 was a rare opportunity and not easily to be missed. Avec l’...
Recital
HEAVENLY SCHUBERT AND DEMONIC CHOPIN
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 21, 2018
One of the anomalies in the long ago “Golden Era” of romantic pianism (about 1905 to 1940) is that the virtuoso giants of the time didn’t play Schubert. It took the German pianist Artur Schnabel to bring the beauties of Schuber’s work to the public’s attention, and now they seem to be on almost ever...
CHORAL AND VOCAL REVIEW

Baritone Florian Boesch

A WINTER'S JOURNEY IN SPRING

by Steve Osborn
Sunday, May 11, 2014

On a May afternoon of abundant sunshine and warmth, a few hundred people gathered in Weill Hall to hear a song cycle about the bleakest of midwinters. The composer was Schubert, the singer was the Austrian baritone Florian Boesch, and the cycle was "Winterreise" (Winter's Journey), easily the saddest and most profound example of the form.

Boesch and pianist Malcom Martineau were clad entirely in black, the better to reinforce the somber mood. After reminding the audience not to applaud until after the 24th and final song, Boesch leaned up against the piano, and then unleashed his spine-tingling, wonderfully resonant voice, as soft around the edges as a kitten. Hands clasped in front, he sang the opening lines in full character: "Fremd bin ich eingezogen, Fremd zieh' ich wieder aus" (As a stranger I arrived, as a stranger again I leave).

Among his many stellar attributes, Boesch is a consummate actor. By the end of the first song, "Gute Nacht" (Good Night), he had fully established his character, a heartbroken man rejected by the woman who professed to love him back in May. Now he leaves her town and sets out alone on a winter's journey of unknown destination.

The next song, "Die Wetterfahne" (The Weather Vane) offered a strong contrast to the first. Boesch unfolded his hands and held them far apart, with fists clenched. Unlike the restraint and sad acceptance of "Gute Nacht," he now displayed flashes of anger, with a voice to back them up. That intensity continued in the famous "Gefrorene Tränen" (Frozen Tears) that followed, reaching a climax (lowmax?) in the deep bass notes of the second verse.

By the fourth song, it was clear that Boesch would enact each one differently, while confined to a few square feet in front of the piano. Hand gestures and facial expressions were his visual allies, but the real difference came in his and Martineau's musical approach to each text. His voice was by turns mellifluous, agitated, whispered, and strident. Martineau likewise displayed a full range of emotion without ever overstepping his boundaries. He always allowed Boesch to shine through.

Being Austrian, Boesch has an inherent advantage in pronouncing the text of "Winterreise." Every word was distinct and fully articulated. Final consonants came to a full stop, and vowels blended beautifully. His breath control was superb, and his upper range was as bewitching in its softness as his bass in its thundering.

As the songs rolled along, each one stood out in its own way. In the fourth, it was the despairing enactment of "Wo find ich eine Blüte?" (Where will I find a blossom?). In the fifth, it was the shift in tone to match the "dead of night." In the sixth, it was the anguished outburst at the end.

Throughout the performance, Boesch really tested the limits of his voice and character. His repeated pianissimos were perhaps the most beguiling aspect of his musical arsenal. Perched just on the edge of inaudibility, they brought a hushed stillness to the house, a quietude that was only interrupted by overanxious page turners following along in their programs. In the acting domain, Boesch emphasized his character's anger as much as his resigned acceptance of his fate.

Boesch's emphasis on contrast and duality makes him an ideal interpreter of Schubert, a composer noted for his constant fluctuation between major and minor. This fluctuation is present throughout the cycle, nowhere more so than in "Frühlingstraum" (A Dream of Spring), where the merry bird songs of the opening verse are replaced by the crowing of roosters and the shrieks of ravens.

The real pivot in the cycle comes in the 20th song, "Der Wegweiser" (The Signpost), where the traveler resolves to take a road "from which no one has ever returned." After making that vow, Boesch stood perfectly still, allowing the metronomic clock ticking in the piano to come to the fore. It was a chilling moment.

From there to the end, the intensity increased relentlessly, from a visit to the graveyard, to the traveler's delirious vision of three suns in the sky, and finally to a frozen lake, where a forlorn hurdy-gurdy man plays incessantly as he staggers back and forth, barefoot on the ice. Boesch brought yet another voice to this song, almost speaking the short, clipped phrases and then sustaining the final notes in a haunting tone of utmost delicacy.

The ovation was immediate and sustained. This was a great performance of a musical masterpiece, as full of drama as a grand opera, but enacted in a fraction of the space and with just two consummate musicians.