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Franz Peter SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Die Schöne Müllerin (The Lovely Miller Maid)

Ralph Kohn (baritone)
Graham Johnson (piano)
No recording venue and dates given
OPERA OMNIA OP1751 [63:22]

The multi-talented Ralph Kohn obtained his doctorate at Manchester University, specialising in pharmacology and pursued a career in the pharmaceutical industry. In 1970 Dr Kohn founded the first medical services company in the UK and 20 years later became the first recipient of the prestigious Queen's Award for Export Achievement. Alongside this distinguished scientific and business career, Ralph Kohn is a renowned and popular baritone, with numerous recitals and recordings to his name. He became an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Academy of Music for his contribution to music. Studying in Rome with Manlio Marcantoni and thereafter worked with Charles Wadsworth in New York, Kohnís vocal training was continued in London with Helen Isepp, Otakar Kraus and Derek Hammond-Stroud.

The Schubert song cycle Die Schöne Müllerin (The Lovely Miller Maid) has remained a perennial favourite in the Lieder repertoire. The poems of Wilhelm Mueller with their limpid verses and precise and picturesque imagery inspired Schubert to compose Romantic music of the country. It was in 1823 when Schubert embarked on his Die Schöne Müllerin cycle of twenty songs. This was more than a mere succession of songs connected together by a unifying thread but a miniature drama in which the effect is cumulative.

Schubert composed the cycle intended for the range of the tenor voice although he did transpose several of the songs for his friend Karl von Schönstein who, like the soloist on this release, was a baritone. Many famous baritones have recorded Die Schöne Müllerin at least once namely: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Wolfgang Holzmair, Gérard Souzay, Olaf Bär et al.

Talented soloist Ralph Kohn undoubtedly has the intelligence, experience and poetic sensibility to appreciate the individual qualities of each song in the cycle. There is an honest enthusiasm in the baritoneís mature voice and his sense of drama can be impressive. Schubert wrote this music to represent a young millerís apprentice who falls in love with his masterís daughter, which culminates in the apprenticeís suicide. This is music of a young man and Kohn, despite his sterling efforts, doesnít have the necessary freshness and innocence in his voice to convince or evoke the loves and tribulations of the millerís apprentice. I enjoyed the recital although there were one or two hairy moments; for example in the penultimate song (track 19) where Kohn seems to lose his security of control. The ever-reliable pianist Graham Johnson is very experienced in this repertoire and plays with accomplishment.

There are many versions of Die Schöne Müllerin in the catalogues. My particular favourite is the 1961 recording by world-famous baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Gerald Moore on EMI Classics CDC 5 562440 2. I can also recommend the 1989 version from tenor Peter Schreier and András Schiff on Decca 430 414-2. Full texts and an essay are provided and the Opera Omnia sound engineers have done a fine job.

An enjoyable recital but the competition is so exceptionally fierce in this song-cycle.

Michael Cookson

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