Florian Boesch is the kind of baritone who, once heard, makes you want to hear him in any and all repertoire appropriate to his voice. A more alluringly rich voice than Christian Gerhaher’s is hard to imagine until hearing Boesch, who has a greater capacity for soft singing, maintaining an interpretatively interesting tone even in pianissimos. However, that very quality is what tests one’s loyalties in this conceptually attractive tour of the less-travelled areas of Schubert’s vast song output, with much quiet-and-slow sameness that doesn’t wear easily a full CD.
The song choices are partly to blame. Exploring this kind of Romantic-era archetype involves solitary figures, whether hermits or people who have been rejected by society and left to contemplate the nature of their being. Several songs have the same titles: the composer isn’t heard in multiple settings of the same text but definitely revisits similar poetic territory. The slow-and-soft approach is laudable in theory for mining these often modest creations for hidden depths of expressivity, though there is a point at which their musical examination brings songs to a near standstill. Cohesion and shape are lost. You wonder at times if the music is taking more time to perform than Schubert spent composing it. In all fairness, though, ‘Abschied’ D475, which clocks in at 5’07", has been known to last two minutes longer in performances by Matthias Goerne. ‘Meeres Stille’ D216, a song about the calm sea, is sometimes a shade above audibility. One stretch of the CD has four such songs consecutively. So does Winterreise, you might argue, but in a cycle with a clear emotional and architectural trajectory.
Of course, there’s plenty of artistry here. For all the conceptual orientation of the disc, Boesch isn’t the sort of singer who tells you what to think or feel in this music. He lays it out with hugely attractive (and protracted) clarity and then lets you enter the music a fuller participant. And in many ways, the repertoire shows the roads that led to the well-known Schubert cycles. Maybe all of that means that this disc’s main appeal is to the most serious students of Schubert.