James Gilchrist has made a number of notable recordings in the
last few years.
He’s featured in several of the recordings from the Bach
, invariably to good effect. In the art-song repertoire
he’s attracted particular attention for his recordings of English song,
including a fine recital of songs by Finzi
Now, in company with his regular recital partner, Anna Tilbrook, he offers us
his interpretation of one of the pinnacles of the lieder
The booklet contains an extended essay by Richard Morrison but there’s
also a shorter note by Gilchrist himself, in which he says this: “Schubert
and [Wilhelm] Müller have here created a work of huge power and depth, where
we explore this tragedy [of the young man] with great empathy and pity, but also
with our hearts full of despair at our own inability to alter the relentless
logic of fate.”
There’s some truth in this but Gilchrist also demonstrates, perhaps inadvertently,
a danger for the singer in approaching this cycle of songs. At the risk of making
an obvious point, the problem for the singer in Die schöne Müllerin
and for the listener too - is that we know what’s going to happen. We know
that there’s an unhappy ending in store. But that’s not how things
start off. The opening songs surely show us a confident young man, off into the
world to seek his fortune, one who early on meets the girl of his dreams. Even
at the end of their little tryst in Tränenregen
, when the girl gets
up and leaves, the young man doesn’t really sense an end to his hopes and
in the very next song, Mein!
he enthusiastically asserts that the girl
is his. It’s only with the Erlkönig
-like Der Jäger
a threat to his dreams of happiness materialises - and that’s the fourteenth
song out of a collection of twenty! So, it seems to me that one of the challenges
for the singer in this cycle is not to peak too soon. I wondered, listening to
this performance, if Gilchrist had perhaps donned the mask of tragedy a little
too early in the tale. As he observes later in the same note, “For a tale
of such sadness, it is striking that that so much of the work is deliciously
A few months before making this recording James Gilchrist and Anna Tilbrook performed Die
at the Oxford Lieder Festival and, to judge from
the MusicWeb International review
that concert, the dark side of the cycle was very much to the fore then. Much
of what Anne Ozorio noted in that recital is evident on the CD also, as one might
Considering this recorded performance as a sequence, then, in Das Wandern
find the young man setting off, in Gilchrist’s portrayal, in a sturdy and
purposeful fashion. After that I like the light voice with which Gilchrist delivers Wohin?
an den Bach
the young man has found a job and a love object, at which he
expresses gentle contentment. Here Gilchrist’s easeful tone and legato
are very pleasing.
The performance of Der Neugierige
is a very good one and Gilchrist’s
singing in the last two stanzas is particularly fine. He brings out the youthful
longing very well indeed, though I do wonder if he is just a bit too melancholic
rather then pensive? The next song, Ungeduld
, is not quite so successful.
The delivery is just a little bit breathless as Gilchrist seeks to convey the
impatience of the song’s title. Jumping ahead, when we reach Der Jäger
same flaw is present - the words tumble out at a pace that’s just a fraction
too hectic. To be sure, the mix of apprehension and contempt in the young man’s
response to the arrival on the scene of the hunter is dramatically conveyed,
but I think Gilchrist might have been even more bitingly effective at a fractionally
However, after the slight disappointment of Ungeduld
Gilchrist is very
expressive in Morgengruss
, where the lovely light voice that I’ve
so much enjoyed in his Bach recordings is used to excellent effect. His delivery
of the repeated last line of each stanza is especially pleasing and I like the
way he brings more resolution to his tone for the last verse.
When he is confident he’s won the girl’s heart, the delivery of Mein!
strong and triumphant. Perhaps other singers have put across more joyful exhilaration
but Gilchrist’s performance still convinces.
As the mood of the cycle darkens appreciably and moves towards its tragic dénouement
Gilchrist is a particularly fine exponent of Schubert’s music. He conveys
bitter jealousy very successfully in Eifersucht und Stolz
, for example.
The final three songs are beautifully done. The splendidly controlled light tone
and seamless legato in Trockne Blumen
fall very pleasingly on the ear
and the same vocal characteristics serve the melodic line of Der Müller
und der Bach
very well indeed. Gilchrist brings the cycle to an end with
a beautifully judged reading of Des Baches Wiegenlied
. The sorrowfully
poetic tone he adopts is just right and his singing is very sensitive.
I’m conscious that I’ve mentioned the singer a lot and that the contribution
of pianist Anna Tilbrook has rather gone unnoticed. That’s unfair for she
plays very well indeed. It’s quite evident that she and Gilchrist work
as an experienced team. I find you can tell very quickly if a pianist is ‘with’ the
soloist and on this occasion it’s never in doubt. But Miss Tilbrook is
far more than a “mere” accompanist: her playing of Schubert’s
often very telling piano parts give consistent pleasure and she makes a major
contribution to the performance without ever intruding so as to distract from
the singer and the tale he has to relate.
I’ve commented earlier on Gilchrist’s view of this cycle. In fact,
I don’t think my reaction has been influenced unduly by what he had to
say in the booklet for I actually listened to it for the first time before I’d
read the notes - and I only looked up the concert review when I began typing
up my listening notes. This is a darker interpretation of the cycle than some
that I’ve heard. Reactions to the interpretation are bound to be subjective.
I’d welcome a bit more youthful optimism than I hear in the first few songs
but other listeners may detect more of that quality than I do - or may subscribe
more completely to Gilchrist’s philosophy of the work.
But leaving aside subjective issues of interpretation for a moment, there’s
a great deal to enjoy in this performance. Gilchrist sings very well, his voice
consistently pleasing to hear. His German sounds very good to me - though I am
not a German speaker - and the words are very clear at all times. There’s
not just one way to approach Die schöne Müllerin
music is too subtle and multi-faceted for that - and Gilchrist’s thoughtful
and well-delivered conception has a good deal of validity. Captured in very good
sound, this is a version that is well worth hearing and a recording that should
further enhance the reputation of this fine English tenor.