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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828) Die Schöne Müllerin, D795 (1823)
Thomas Oliemans (baritone)
Malcolm Martineau (piano)
rec. live, 3 June 2019, Théâtre de l’Athénée, Paris
Sung texts with French and English translations enclosed B RECORDS LBM025 [65:00]
It is close to fourteen years since the Dutch baritone Thomas Oliemans introduced himself to the record-buying public with a recording of Schubert’s Winterreise (review). He was then 29 years old and my colleague Anne Ozorio thought it was bold but perhaps a bit rash to tackle what many regard as the Everest of song cycles. She heard a warm lyrical voice which wasn’t the ideal instrument for this mainly dark and dramatic cycle, and was sure that if he would return to the songs twenty years later he would do something quite different. Those twenty years haven’t passed yet, but just a few months ago I had for review a recording of it, set down in 2018, so he is way ahead of expectations – and the result was of a calibre that rendered it a Recommended tag (review). Mainly, though, he has established himself as a leading interpreter of French melodies but also taken on other Schubert songs. As early as 2010 he delivered an amended Schwanengesang that was much to my taste, and here, ten years later, arrives Die schöne Müllerin, in both cases with Malcolm Martineau at the piano. Martineau is also the mastermind behind the ongoing Fauré series on Signum, where Oliemans is one of the participators.
If Anne Ozorio found Oliemans too weak for Winterreise she in the end was fairly positive to his singing. My first impression of the opening songs in Die schöne Müllerin was of a rather aggressive and defiant wanderer. “Das Wandern ist des Müllers Lust” (Roaming is the miller’s pleasure) says the first stanza, but the singer here doesn’t sound in the least pleasurable. In the second song, Wohin? the brook gushes forth in all its power and the miller struggles on, stubbornly: “Ist das denn meine Straße?” (Is this the way I go, then?) he asks. Bit by bit, though, he seems to adjust to his situation and when we reach Der Neugierige he has tempered his agitation and settled in a kind of rose-coloured gloom that is thoroughly becoming. The rest of the cycle is still filled with deep feelings, expressed in sensitive and expressive readings of immense beauty. In my notes I repeat “sensitive” time and again, whether it is the nervously agitated Ungeduld, the lovely Morgengruss or Des Müllers Blumen. The jolly folksong like Mit dem grünen Lautenband and the dramatic Der Jäger are luminous and he reaches ecstatic heights in Trockne Blumen. The concluding dialogue between the miller and the brook is deeply touching and the brook’s lullaby soothes, even though the listener’s eyes are filled with tears.
Recorded live at a recital in Paris last June there is applause at the end. I would have preferred at least some seconds of silence for contemplation afterwards. It should have been possible to edit out the clapping altogether. I would also have liked the song texts to have been more easily readable. As it is every second opening of the booklet is printed on red background and the white front and back pages have red circles partly covering the text, while the enclosed interview with Thomas Oliemans and Malcolm Martineau on a separate folder is also printed on red.
Enough grumbling. Martineau and Oliemans have a perfect understanding after more than a dozen years of cooperation, and this is a valuable addition to their joint discography. Oliemans’ tone has become a fraction grittier than when I last heard him, but it is still an attractive voice and his insight into the songs is deep and convincing. He may still be at his best in French repertoire but this issue is far from an also-ran – and the new Winterreise, which I rank even higher, is certainly worth anyone’s money. I bet Anne Ozorio would love it too. So, to get a full picture of Thomas Oliemans’ capacity as a Schubert singer: get both and add that ten-year-old Schwanengesang as well!