Singer Florian Boesch, a baritone in a dramatic role

February 16, 2012

Baritone Florian Boesch possesses a singularly handsome voice. Dark-hued and oaken in tone, it rests more in the bass-baritone range, while extending comfortably into higher-lying music.

In a Vocal Arts D.C. recital at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater on Wednesday — with veteran pianist Roger Vignoles as the impeccable accompanist — Boesch also demonstrated how effectively he can use that voice, spinning a velvety legato line and weighting the words of each song with the care of a natural-born lieder singer.

Yet, beyond even his vocal riches, Boesch distinguished himself in his dramatic engagement with the music. In a program of songs based on the poems of Heinrich Heine — Schumann’s song-cycle “Lieder­kreis,” Op. 24; a grouping of other songs; and selections from Schubert’s posthumously assembled song cycle “Schwanengesang” — he vividly conjured the character and emotional journey in the song-texts without undue histrionics or musical distortions. A simple shrug of the shoulders, ironic raise of furrowed brows, gradual intensifying of volume or unexpected drop in dynamics on a single word spoke volumes about the restless spirit or amorous tribulations of each song’s protagonist. And, happily, the singer remained in character as memorably during the songs’ preludes and postludes as during the sung portions.

Purists might balk at Boesch’s vocal effects (expressive slides, crooned phrases, lines sung on a mere wisp of breath, words set off from their accompaniment) that might suggest more of a cabaret singer’s art. But even these were subtly employed, and they drew the listener closer to the musical and emotional life of the songs.

— Joe Banno

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