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MASKED SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY CARRIES ON BRILLIANTLY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 15, 2020
In some ways the Santa Rosa Symphony’s Nov. 15 concert on YouTube resembled a Conceptual Art performance from the 1970s. On display were about 30 masked orchestral musicians playing six feet apart from each other on stage, some of them separated by plexiglass barriers. In the 1970s, the concept behi...
Chamber
SPLENDID STRINGS IN A SUNLIT GARDEN
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, November 1, 2020
A sun-drenched autumn afternoon, a Marin County garden and six superb string players from the Santa Rosa Symphony were manna from heaven to a pandemic-weary audience starved for live music. The sextet of Santa Rosa Symphony musicians performed to a small group of 20 Nov. 1, the day after Halloween....
Chamber
EXAMPLARY QUARTET PLAYING IN MARIN GARDEN CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, October 22, 2020
Taped video concerts have pretty much dominated the recent fare for classical music fans, but sporadic live music making can still be found in the North Bay with outdoor chamber music. Of course with the obligatory social distancing and often decorative facial masks. Four San Francisco Opera Orc...
Chamber
VIDEO CHAMBER MUSIC FROM LINCOLN CENTER IN GREEN'S BROADCAST
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, October 17, 2020
Along with hosting its resident the Santa Rosa Symphony, Weill Hall has contracted to produce sporadic virtual programs of classical music, and began Oct. 17 with a charming three-part concert from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in New York. Hosted with comely introductions by CMSLC di...
Symphony
THRILLING SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY PERFORMANCE IN AN EMPTY WEILL HALL
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, October 11, 2020
Viewers of the Santa Rosa Symphony’s inaugural socially distanced YouTube concert on Oct. 11 could be forgiven for thinking they had stumbled upon a performance of Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera” (A Masked Ball), given that the string players in the opening shot all wore black masks. The sole excepti...
Symphony
BROWN VIDEO GALA LAUNCHES SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY SEASON
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, September 12, 2020
Similar to many North Coast musical organizations the Santa Rosa Symphony has scheduled a series of virtual concerts on video, spotlighting sections of the orchestra and the exuberant activities of its conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong. However, as an introduction to the season, a Sept. 12 gala vide...
SONGS AND ECHOES OF HOME IN AIZURI QUARTET CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, March 8, 2020
From the first richly layered harmonies of Dvořák’s Cypresses, the Aizuri Quartet held the March 8th audience at Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church in thrall. The church was more than half full, a good crowd considering present anxiety about the spread of the coronavirus. Taking precautions, the M...
COLORFUL BORN BACH AT AGAVE BAROQUE'S SCHROEDER HALL CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Friday, February 28, 2020
Bach’s obituary records that “Johann Sebastian Bach belongs to a family that seems to have received a love and aptitude for music as a gift of Nature to all its members in common.” Agave Baroque presented their Feb. 28 concert, Born Bach, as a partial musical story of several generations in this rem...
ECLECTIC VIOLIN AND PIANO WORKS IN VIRTUOSIC MILL VALLEY RECITAL
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 23, 2020
Blending virtuosity with sublime artistry, violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky and pianist Wu Qian gave the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society audience many thrills February 23, performing four muscular and soulful works by four composers from four countries: de Falla, Schumann, Stravinsky, and Grieg. T...
PREMIER OF KAIZEN AND DRAMATIC MOZART HIGHLIGHT ECHO CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 16, 2020
As concertgoers took their seats in San Anselmo’s First Presbyterian Church for ECHO Chamber Orchestra’s February 16 program, they were surprised to see at center stage two bass drums, a tom-tom, bongos, high hat and cymbals. It was the occasion of the world premiere of "Kaizen," composed and perf...
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.