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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828) Die Schöne Müllerin, Op.25, D795 [66:47]
Georg Lehner (baritone)
Dino Mastroyiannis (piano)
rec. live Cultural Centre of the Porphyrogenis Foundation, Agria, Volos, Greece,
10 April 2014. DDD
Texts not included in booklet. SHEVA SH109 [66:47]
With so many excellent performances of Die Schöne Müllerin in the catalogue,
any new recording needs to be very special. Had I been present at the concert
where this Sheva recording was made and reviewed it for our sister site Seen
and Heard I’m sure that I would have enjoyed it and would have said so.
A full-price recording, however, is a very different matter: there are more
than 80 CDs and several other recordings on other media and too many of them
have considerable merits to plump for one recommendation.
My first port of call is Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, who recorded the cycle
several times with Gerald Moore:
Regis RRC1383, super-budget price, rec. 1951 – review Alto ALC1207, super-budget price, rec. 1962: with Wanderers
Nachtlied, etc. – review Warner Masters 0852092, mid-price, rec. 1962 – review
of earlier EMI GROC release
DG E4151862, or DG
Presto 4536762, full-price, rec. 1972
DG 4777956, 3 budget-price CDs, the 1972 recording with Die
Winterreise and Schwanengesang one of the great bargains of the
catalogue (target price £13).
One Fischer-Dieskau recording which I can’t recommend was made far too late,
in 1991, with Andras Schiff (Arthaus Music DVD 107269 – review).
F-D’s voice was by then a pale shadow of itself and I simply cannot understand
why it received such praise in many quarters but not from me or from Anne
Ozorio writing about the earlier TDK release – review.
Even setting F-D aside as almost beyond analysis, and ignoring the many very
fine tenor recordings, I listened for comparison to another baritone recording
which had so far passed me by: Christopher Maltman and Graham Johnson, recorded
live at the Wigmore Hall in December 2010. (WHLive0044) Incidentally, I can’t
recommend the Qobuz stream or download to which I listened – it’s marred by
some very intrusive bumps and bangs but the Naxos Music Library version seems
free of these.
Even in the very first song, Das Wandern, the difference is apparent:
Georg Lehner sings the notes and sings them well – I wish I could ever have
sounded as good. Likewise Dino Mastroyiannis accompanies well – again would
that I could – but it all sounds rather undifferentiated, with too little
attempt to interpret the music, as Maltman and Johnson do.
In Wohin? Lehner and Mastroyiannis make more of an attempt to suggest
the gently flowing brook which leads the journeyman to the mill but Maltman
and Johnson on the Wigmore Hall recording are much more successful, challenging
even Fischer-Dieskau and Moore. It’s not just that Maltman moulds and tempers
his voice to the music much more, he’s also most sensitively accompanied,
as one would expect with Johnson at the keyboard. The presence of the latter
is one reason for the success of the Hyperion Schubert Edition, not least
of their recording of Die Schöne Müllerin, with Ian Bostridge as soloist,
available at mid-price on CDA30020, with Fischer-Dieskau reading those poems
from the cycle which Schubert didn’t set – see Download
News October 2010.
In Am Feierabend Lehner tries hard to distinguish between the voices
of the miller who praises the protagonist’s work and the daughter who wishes
them all Good Night but the result sounds forced whereas Maltman achieves
the effect much more naturally and, with Johnson’s assistance, suggests his
nervous hope that the daughter has noted his earnest intent.
Having set out to do some spot comparisons, I listened to the Wigmore Hall
recording all through and found myself in happy agreement with John Quinn’s
assessment of this as a recording to return to – review.
The reservations which I had felt before making any comparisons were magnified
by listening to Maltman and Johnson. For too much of the time Lehner sings
mezzo-forte to forte and Mastroyiannis accompanies him too obtrusively
whereas Johnson knows when to stay in the background, just nudging the accompaniment
along. The fortepianos of Schubert’s time would not have allowed such obtrusiveness,
but there’s an additional problem in that the tone of Mastroyiannis’ Yamaha
C3 is harsh. Maybe the recording is to blame rather than the instrument, since
the back cover of the CD credits a piano technician as having been in attendance.
Turning down the volume helped only to a limited extent: by the time that
Lehner comes to the exultation of winning the daughter in Mein! there
is not much left in the locker to be turned up. Actually, neither Maltman
nor Bostridge overdoes the joy in this poem.
I lasted the course but with difficulty: I even found myself beginning to
wonder if Die Schöne Müllerin really was the great and varied song
cycle that I had long considered it.
Those who dislike applause will find that there is far too much of it here
and it sounds rather desultory by contrast with the up-front performance and
recording. While it’s sometimes possible to make allowances for the omission
of texts with downloads, though it should not be necessary, there’s no excuse
for not including them in the Sheva CD booklet: at a lower price both Wigmore
Hall Live and Hyperion provide them. It seems almost superfluous to note that
the timing given in the booklet is out by almost a minute.
Nothing would have given me greater pleasure than to recommend this recording,
but there are too many problems with it and too many very good alternatives.
Any one of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s recordings with Gerald Moore would do
much better: why not go for the inexpensive 3-CD set if you don’t have his
Winterreise or Schwanengesang? Having resisted digging out the
box for comparison in this review, I’m now going to do exactly that.
Christopher Maltman and Graham Johnson also come at an attractive price as
do Ian Bostridge and Graham Johnson for those who prefer a tenor (both around
£8.75). Several other very fine recordings are listed in MWI