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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Die schöne Müllerin D.795 (1823)
(Im Winter zu lessen, a cycle of poems by Wilhelm Müller, 1794-1827)
1. Das Wandern; 2. Wohin?; 3. Halt!; 4. Danksagung an den Bach; 5. Am Feierabend; 6. Der Neugierige; 7. Ungeduld; 8. Morgengruβ; 9. Des Müllers Blumen; 10. Tränenregen; 11. Mein!; 12. Pause; 13. Mit dem grünen Lautenbande; 14. Der Jäger; 15. Eifersucht und Stolz; 16. Die liebe Farbe; 17. Die böse Farbe; 18. Trockne Blumen; 19. Der Müller und der Bach; 20. Des Baches Wiegenlied.
Ian Bostridge (tenor); Mitsuko Uchida (piano).
Recorded December 2003, Lyndhurst Hall, London. DDD
EMI CLASSICS 5 57827 2 [63:48]


 

Schubert wrote hundreds of songs and two cycles, both of which set poems by Wilhelm Müller. The second, Winterreise (Winter’s Journey) of 1827, is often considered to be greater but Die schöne Müllerin (The beautiful miller-girl) is more immediately accessible. It traces the emotions and [mis]fortunes of a young lad who falls in love with the miller’s daughter and loses her to a rival. Although fundamentally sad, it is not unremittingly dark in tone and it contains some of Schubert’s most haunting melodies. Moreover, they are strung together in seamless fashion to become the musical equivalent of a page turner. Don’t start listening unless you have over an hour to spare!

This issue, Ian Bostridge’s second recording of the work, has already been reviewed enthusiastically by Anne Ozorio (see link to review below) and certainly lived up to my prior high expectations. Bostridge made his previous highly successful recording of Die schöne Müllerin for Hyperion in October 1995. That was part of a complete edition of Schubert songs with many artists inspired by one accompanist, Graham Johnson. Eight years later Mitsuko Uchida is the partner, fresh from her own exploration of the major piano works.

Bostridge’s voice does not seem to have changed greatly during the interim but he has rethought the interpretation extensively and goes deeper at almost every turn. It might be argued that there is some loss of spontaneity and youthful freshness, for example in Mein! – the one song which seems conspicuously less successful this time round. Perhaps it was easier to understand why Bostridge failed to get the girl last time round but here the emotions run deeper and many is the inflection that is more telling. The fourteenth song (The Hunter) is a notable tour de force at breakneck speed. In matters of tempi, there are generally subtle differences between the two recordings. The tendency is that the slower songs have broadened marginally and the quicker ones become even more urgent. A similar trend (by analogy) is discernible with the dynamics. The greater contrasts that result are well-demonstrated by the sixth and seventh songs (which translate as The curious man and Impatience). Ultimately, in last three songs, Bostridge is more overtly tragic, each time at a slower tempo than before, with overwhelming cumulative effect.

The contrast between Johnson, the master accompanist, and Uchida, the virtuoso soloist, is fascinating. It is, I think, possible to hear Uchida’s experience of the great piano sonatas and there is more partnership than subservience. Johnson is beyond criticism but I did not feel that Uchida overplays her hand. She is most naturally balanced with the voice and the recording has a bloom that feels just right. Bostridge writes the notes himself and provides valuable personal insights. He seems to see the work as an equal of Winterreise – "it stands with the works of 1827-8…. as a sort of artistic miracle". Listening to this new recording it is hard to argue with that.

There have been many recordings of this great cycle and choosing a single version is difficult. For a start there is a need to consider baritone and tenor singers. Although sitting more naturally for a tenor, one of this work’s greatest exponents is a baritone – Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. One of DFD’s various recordings (from 1968) only emerged at all about 5 years ago and is particularly treasurable; Jörg Demus is the pianist. There is also a very fine version with Gerald Moore from 1971. One or other of these discs is essential for every Schubert-lover but so too is a tenor version and, in this respect, Bostridge’s recordings stand very high. Amongst the competition I have heard are Pears and Britten from 1959, and Ian and Jennifer Partridge from 1973. The former is as magnificent as one would expect but also idiosyncratic and the latter is an obvious bargain choice.

If you have it already, there is no reason to jettison Bostridge’s earlier recording. As well as being a very fine version of the cycle it is probably the best documented – no mere booklet here but a handsome book that won’t fit in standard packaging. Also, the six songs that Schubert didn’t set from Müller’s cycle are read … by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau; they are not for everytime listening but can be programmed out. Nevertheless, there is still every reason to add this newcomer to the shelves. I would not willingly part with any of the versions mentioned above but, in the final analysis, Bostridge’s new recording takes current pride of place.


Patrick C Waller

 

see also review by Anne Ozorio March Recording of the Month



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