> Schubert Schone Mullerin Goerne [ME]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Franz SCHUBERT (1797 - 1828)
‘Die schöne Müllerin’ (1824)
Matthias Goerne (bar)
Eric Schneider (piano)
Rec. 9-11 October 2001 Snape Maltings Concert Hall, Suffolk DDD
DECCA 470 025 - 2 [71.49]


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As I write this review, it is exactly two years to the day since I heard Goerne and Schneider perform their revelatory 'Die schöne Müllerin' at the Wigmore Hall, and since then it has sometimes seemed that hardly a month has gone by without one's being presented with yet another would-be 'great Lieder singer' possessing, one is assured, 'a beautiful voice,' so it is good to be able to write that the real thing is here at last - the most genuinely beautiful voice of his generation in the recording of this great cycle which puts the music before the singer's own ego and leaves no doubt that these songs do not need to be sung by a tenor in order to evoke raw and tender emotions.

Richard Capell famously wrote that Schubert's music '…suggests a rippling movement and by the side of the rippling a flowering: it has the variety and unsurprising naturalness of moving water and springing herb,' and it is this naturalness and flowing quality which is first apparent in Goerne's singing, which may surprise those who have come to regard him as a cerebral, anxious interpreter. There is plenty of anxiety here, when the music and poems call for it, but the singing is of such matchless beauty that one is not as aware of this element as one might be during a live performance. This is not to say that the interpretation is merely pretty: Goerne and Schneider are not offering us a pastoral idyll with a sad end, but a melancholy, introspective evocation of a period in the life and death of a man who, to paraphrase Graham Johnson, fails to live up to what is expected of him, particularly in terms of the stereotypes of manliness and heroism.

'Das Wandern' is of course what any jolly miller boy is meant to sing, and Goerne does it beautifully, with that sense of the voice arising naturally from the innermost part of him, and the most perfect, golden tone - yet you still sense that these hearty sentiments are all a pretence for this character, whose preferred milieu is much more sequestered and problematic. At the line 'Vom Wasser haben wir's gelern't,' the voice acquires even more smoothness and a more marked flowing quality, although, strangely, this is not echoed in the piano, which resolutely strides on. The final stanza finds singer and pianist united in a sense of innate rhythm, and in the voice, that sense of forced cheerfulness which hints at trouble to come.

'Danksagung an den Bach' gives us beautifully judged playing, with the voice naturally arising out of it; the phrase 'hab ich's verstanden' finely suggests the wonder of the question, and 'für's Herze' is ideally tender. The exquisite 'Der Neugierige' is sung and played more beautifully than I have ever heard it, the delicately hesitant opening bars so suggestive of a tentative questioner, and 'O Bächlein, meiner Liebe…' is shaped like a devout prayer. 'Morgengruss' shows that Goerne can astonish us with technique when he feels the need to, the final lines 'Und aus die tiefen Herzen ruft / Die Liebe Leid und Sorgen' being taken seamlessly and with a sense of powerful ease.

If any one song can epitomize what this interpretation is about, then it is 'Pause,' which John Reed believed to be 'the most subtle and inspired song in the cycle.' Schneider's articulation is a small miracle in the vorspiel, managing to make the piano sound as near to a lute as can be imagined, and when the voice emerges it is as though from a trance-like state; the lover is too enraptured to be precise, and the singer captures this hazy mood to perfection. 'Mein Herz ist zu voll' is deeply felt but not overblown, and 'durchschauert' (shudder) is superbly onomatopoeic.

'Mit dem grünen Lautenbande' is not the pretty ditty we usually hear, but an outburst of anger which seems to contain real desperation, as though the lover already knows what is to come next. 'Die böse Farbe' matches an angry, almost raucous accompaniment with singing of searing intensity - this obsessed young man's loathing for his once- loved green, his disturbing desire to lie forever at her door repeating 'Ade' and his reckless bravado at the end , are all presented with the most burning conviction. 'Trockne Blumen' begins with a kind of numb grief which brings 'Gefrorn'e Tränen' to mind, and the crucial lines about tears being powerless to bring dead love to life are poignant without being mawkish; the final stanza, with its thrusting repetition of 'Heraus, heraus!' leaves the listener in no doubt that the miller lad's repressed sexuality has emerged at last, if only in the stunning climax of the vocal line.

After this, only what Johnson finely calls 'heavenly detachment' is possible, and although the final songs may well be taken too slowly for some, I found Goerne's rapt, intense mezza-voce and Schneider's intimate, eloquent playing perfection, especially in the closing song, where the mesmerizing pathos of the voice underlines the grim reality of what the protagonist has done: 'ihr macht meinem Schläfer die Träume so schwer' - and so our own dreams are troubled, by the haunting import of Schubert's music as it is given to us in this deeply searching interpretation.

Must comparisons be made? Of course, they are always expected if ultimately pointless; if it has to be a tenor in this music, then the choice is between Bostridge's sweet tone and beseeching manner and Schreier's anguished, deeply word-sensitive interpretation. If not, then it's Fischer-Dieskau or Goerne: the former has the inestimable advantage of the incomparable Moore at the piano, but Schneider's playing is so much of a piece with Goerne's singing that their performance has a very special singularity. I could not be without any of the above mentioned (or, for that matter, Wünderlich or Partridge) but if one choice has to be made I would have no hesitation with the present recording, since it seems to me that here Goerne and Schneider have achieved a performance of incomparable tenderness, poignancy of feeling for the music and understanding of the import of the narrative, which, as Johnson says, is not merely the story of a young man who drowns himself because the girl he loves has fallen for a hunter, but is a lament for all those who are simultaneously enriched and damned by a poetic nature which cannot face the everyday world.

Melanie Eskenazi


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