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Lyrita New Recording
Sarah Beth Briggs
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.
OF MUSIC UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-MADISON ISBN 193156913-4 [66:17]
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
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
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
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.
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