Having been very impressed by his Schubert recital on Naxos, I was hoping for great things from Florian Boesch in this "Winterreise", and I am not disappointed.
The first thing you notice about Boesch's baritone, apart from its obvious intrinsic beauty of tone, is its youthfulness and flexibility, making him ideally suited to depicting a progressively unbalanced lover of morbid sensibility. It is an evenly registered instrument, from its resonant bottom to its ringing top, light and flexible without any graininess or strain. Because it is so malleable, Boesch does not have to resort to any undue barking or percussive emphasis; for the most part he is surprisingly restrained and makes frequent use of a mellow mezza-voce, knowing that he can gun it when required, such as at the end of "Wasserflut".
He is matched by Martin Martineau, the accompanist of choice du jour for Lieder recitalists; his pianism is superb, making most of the impressionistic depictions of swirling leaves, scudding snowdrifts, barking dogs all the other examples of pathetic fallacy employed in Schubert's miraculously detailed and suggestive writing for the piano. Try the sequence of three songs beginning with no. 15, "Die Krähe" which so delicately paints the slow circling of the crows above the despaired protagonist's head, like so many vultures ready to accompany him to his grave. We move to the staccato quavers representative of dropping leaves in "Letze Hoffnung" to the insistent figure on an alternating semitone interval conveying the yapping of guard dogs in "Im Dorfe". The famous, concluding dirge "Der Leiermann", with its 61 bar ostinato hurdy-gurdy drone, works its magic, with both pianist and singer combining to create a mood of hypnotic intensity.
Boesch, who is Austrian, has the kind of baritone I find most pleasing on the ear and best suited to the demands of these songs, more in the mode of Simon Keenlyside and bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff, with a keen, sharp, resonant edge and no woolliness or tight throatiness beloved of the fans of too many modern German singers. He is a Lieder singer in the fine tradition of Husch and Schlusnus, not...well, supply your own names.
This is a modern "Winterreise" which takes its place for me alongside those recordings by Jorma Hynninen and Thomas Allen: subtle, sensitive and always easy on the ear without ever either prettifying or caricaturing this extraordinary music, which transmutes mental breakdown into an eerily seductive threnody.