> SCHUBERT Die Schone Mullerin Baert [CH]: Classical Reviews- March 2002 MusicWeb-International

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Die schöne Müllerin, D. 795

Josef Baert (baritone), Roumiana Stantcheva (pianoforte)
Recorded June 1993, Leuven
PAVANE ADW7501 [69.45]


Experience Classicsonline

It was one of those stuffy June evenings and the Wensleydale Memorial Hall was nearly full for the last concert of the season of the Washtree Musical Society. Close on seventy people pretending to feel comfortable on hard wooden chairs that creaked as you moved and squeaked against the stone-tiled floor and each chair seemed to have one leg shorter than the others. Close on seventy people all come to hear "Die schöne Müllerin", quite a thing for a little place miles from anywhere like Washtree. The singer was a local chap, Tom Cobbleigh, who’d had some singing lessons in his younger days from a foreign maestro and then gone into the drapery business but had always been ready to do his bit singing around the place, Messiahs and Elijahs all over the county, the Gilbert and Sullivan Club, and you should hear him sing "Drake’s Drum" with the brass band! But he’d always said he’d like to get up one of the Schubert cycles while he still had the voice to do it, so here he was and the locals supported him loyally. Old Joe Spratt in the corner never missed a local event and thought he enjoyed it though he was a bit hard of hearing these days, and Miss Honeygum, who’d been doing the Church flowers for fifty years (and they looked like it) thought it had some very pretty tunes, especially near the beginning. Not many of the young people turned up, but that was only to be expected.

At the piano was Mrs. Gertrude Hall, the previous Vicar’s wife who, as a young girl, had taken some lessons in London with the great Mr. Craxton and of whom things had been expected before she settled down to being a Vicar’s wife. But she still kept her hand in and obliged when a local do called, and it was a crying shame that the new Vicar had brought guitars and things into the Church and only asked her to play the organ at Christmas.

Of course, if you wanted to be carpingly critical you could find plenty to say. Tom’s voice was getting a bit croaky up the top and hadn’t much strength at the bottom and his intonation on the lower notes was, well, not always a hundred per cent. When the going got rough, like in "Der Jäger", it was something if he got most of the words out, never mind the notes, his As (the ones that had to rhyme with the baa of baa-lamb) were a bit odd, perhaps his adenoids needed looking at (there were a lot of these in "Pause"), when he tried to be expressive it came out rather a caricature ("Der Neugierge" was an example of this). And as for Mrs. Hall, she put up a valiant show, a touch heavy-handed in places, none too clear in the introduction to "Ungeduld" but not bad, not bad at all.

But why be so carpingly critical in Washtree? If you believe in live music, and I hope we all do, what are all these fine points before the central fact that Schubert’s "Die schöne Müllerin" got a performance in a small town where the great names never come, and all told the public took away a reasonable idea of what it’s about, Schubert’s music cast its spell. But would you put Tom Cobbleigh and Hall’s performance on a CD? Oh, no, my dear, even Miss Honeygum could see that, records are made by professional people, not by the local chaps. Records are made by people like Josef Baert and Roumiana Stantcheva. Now they’re professionals all right. Just look what it says about them on the miserable little booklet (minuscule notes on music and performers in four languages, song texts in German only). He studied in Vienna and Paris, she studied in Sofia and they met at the Brussels Royal Conservatory. They’ve been doing lieder together since 1968, he’s sung in a whole string of operas (Papageno, Guglielmo, Almaviva, Don Giovanni, you name it …). They’ve been on TV, they’ve made four lieder records. They’re both professors. Now you can’t get much more professional than that. I mean to say, just listen to the start of "Der Jäger", "Pause" and "Ungeduld" (examples 1-3, tracks 14, 12, 7, each from the beginning) and compare them with what I had to say about poor Tom Cobbleigh and Hall and you can hear that I wasn’t really describing Baert and Stantcheva. How could you imagine such a thing?

Now, a word of advice to Pavane. If you must make CDs like this, flog them in the supermarkets and the bazaars but don’t send them to critics who might show them up for what they are. And a word of advice to Baert and Stancheva. If you must make records, record stuff that’s never been done before, and even if you’re not perfect we might bless you even so.

Christopher Howell


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