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Franz SCHUBERT (1797–1828)
Die schöne Müllerin Op. 25, D795 (1823)
Paul Rowe (baritone), Martha Fischer (piano)
rec. no date or venue supplied
Texts and translations not provided.

Is there room for yet another Die schöne Müllerin? How many recordings are there? Well, according to a Dutch website there are more than 130 different versions! Of course not all of them are easily available today, but the sheer number tells us that competition is keen indeed and a newcomer must have something special to offer. The last recording that came my way was with the young German tenor Jan Kobow a couple of years ago (review). He and his excellent accompanist had really tried to rethink their interpretation, tried to get as close as possible to what the music might have sounded like during the composer’s lifetime. They employed a fortepiano. They studied changes to the voice-part made by baritone Johann Michael Vogl, a singer that Schubert admired deeply. They inserted improvised embellishments both to the vocal line and the piano part. The outcome, though hardly revolutionary, has a freshness and spontaneity that was endearing. That recording was one of my “Recordings of the Year” and I haven’t changed my opinion a scrap.

The present recording has no claims to be special. It is a straightforward and honest reading from an experienced singer who has lived with Schubert’s music for years and who has mined deep insights; insights that he accounts for in his liner notes. Listening through the cycle with the music at hand it is easy to observe that he follows Schubert’s instructions, which, by the way, are not that copious. He is ably supported by his pianist Martha Fischer in a well balanced recording. Tempos are on the slow side. His Müllerin is more than five minutes longer than Kobow’s. This isn’t such a big difference for so long a work and since there are no metronome markings by Schubert we can’t know exactly how he wanted them. In other words, this is a middle-of-the-road interpretation that should appeal to listeners with no specific preferences.

There are a couple of rubs however and they have to do with the actual sounds. Lieder singing involves not only producing the right notes and the right note-values but also making the poems come alive through phrasing and through colouring the voice to express feelings and situations. I am afraid that there is too little variation of tone here. In the long run it’s just a bit monotonous. The other problem has to do with the quality of the voice. Paul Rowe is no longer in his first youth and his voice as recorded here has adopted a disturbing beat on sustained notes. This beat can verge on a wobble when the voice is under pressure. It disrupts the line and makes him sound unsteady. His tone also has a plaintive quality that is sometimes apt but often one wishes he could make it more rounded. When he sings softly, which he does whenever it is required, the tone is much more attractive and in those moments he radiates warmth. He is at his best in songs like Der Neugierige, even better in Morgengruss and Des Müllers Blumen. The last stanza of Die liebe Farbe is beautifully inward and the last phrases of the last song, Des Baches Wiegenlied is happily also one of his best moments – a moment that stays in the listener’s memory.

I know that people’s reaction to vibrato differ a lot and often one can be indulgent to less than attractive tone as long as the singer conveys special insight. Paul Rowe has insight but for me the lack of steady tone unfortunately rules out this reading.

It should be pointed out that this recording was made possible through the generous support of a Graduate School Research Grant, University of Wisconsin-Madison. All proceeds from sales of this CD support scholarships in the School of Music, UW-Madison, where Paul Rowe is Associate Professor of Voice.

Göran Forsling


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