Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Die schöne Müllerin D795 (1823)
Mauro Peter (tenor), Helmut Deutsch (piano),
rec. live, 28 January 2014, Wigmore Hall, London
German texts and English translations included

When this CD arrived for review I had a recollection that the concert from which it derives had been enthusiastically reviewed by one of my Seen and Heard colleagues. On checking, I found that I was right: Robert Beattie had had the good fortune to be present in Wigmore Hall that day. Now, with the performance issued on CD a wider audience can appreciate it.

I’d not previously heard the young Swiss tenor, Mauro Peter but he already has an impressive CV. His pianist, Helmut Deutsch needs no introduction: he is justly celebrated as a Lieder partner and his contribution here is fully up to the standards of excellence and perception that one has come to expect.

Peter makes a favourable impression right from the start. ‘Das Wandern’ reveals a tenor with a firm, clear and manly voice. There’s an appealing lightness of tone, too. This augurs well for a personification of Schubert’s youthful suitor. In this strophic song Peter displays a welcome, intelligent variety of expression which gives each of the five stanzas an appropriate degree of individuality. This is a promising start.

The qualities noted in the paragraph above prove to be constants during the performance as a whole, as does the clarity of diction that characterises ‘Wohin?’ I’m not entirely sure if Mauro Peter is a native German-speaker but I bet he is and his care for the words and his wish to make something of them without unwarranted exaggeration gives much pleasure here. The first inward-looking song is ‘Danksagung an den Bach’ and Peter delivers the song with great sensitivity; his phrasing is excellent and imaginative.

In ‘Am Feierabend’ Peter and Deutsch ease the tempo back for the section beginning at “Und da sitz’ ich in der großen Runder” and this is most effective in adding poignancy, as is the way they use the same device for the last two vocal phrases. ‘Der Neugierige’ benefits from Peter’s lovely plangent tone and winning phrasing. It’s an exquisite performance of the song during which there are some very sensitive touches on the piano to admire as well.

As the cycle unfolds Peter demonstrates to us the gradual changes in the young miller’s outlook. After what we know to be the delusional enthusiasm of ‘Mein!’ he manages very convincingly the gradual darkening of the prevailing mood in ‘Pause’. Here Schubert’s music is altogether deeper and more searching - both technically and emotionally – than anything that we’ve heard so far; Peter and Deutsch respond most perceptively.

The bite and drama of ‘Der Jäger’ is expertly conveyed by both artists; Deutsch’s powerful playing impels the music forward excitingly. Peter’s account of ‘Eifersucht und Stolz’ is appropriately bitter and fraught. He then racks up the intensity still further in ‘Die liebe Farbe’ against the melancholy surface calm of Deutsch’s playing. I find him all-too convincing in the desperation and anguish of ‘Die böse Farbe’; this young miller definitely engages our sympathies.

The last three songs are very moving here. At the start of ‘Trockne Blumen’ Schubert’s piano writing has the sparseness that we shall encounter again in Winterreise. From this Peter and Deutsch build unerringly to the song’s searing climax. In ‘Das Baches Wiegenlied’ Peter’s plangent tone perfectly conveys the tragedy yet also the fact that the young man has at last found repose. He makes the final stanza especially affecting, yet in a very natural way; Schubert’s music – and the delivery of it by these musicians – is so simple yet so full of feeling.

This is a fine account of Die schöne Müllerin which I’ve enjoyed and admired. The singing of Mauro Peter gives great pleasure and he couldn’t wish for a better partner than Helmut Deutsch. As is usual with this label, in my experience, the sound quality is very good; the balance between singer and piano is well-judged, for example. The booklet contains an expert note by Richard Wigmore.

I’m very glad to add this version of Schubert’s wonderful song cycle to my collection. I’d very much like to hear Peter and Deutsch in Winterreise.

John Quinn

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