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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Die Schöne Müllerin (1823)
Ian Bostridge (tenor)
Saskia Giorgini (piano)
Rec. live at Wigmore Hall, London, April 2019
PENTATONE PTC5186775 [61:30]

This, as far as I can see, is Ian Bostridge’s third recording of Schubert’s evergreen song cycle. I haven’t heard his 1995 recording with Graham Johnson, part of Hyperion’s complete Schubert song edition, but I have heard (and loved) his 2003 Warner recording with Mitsuko Uchida, so any direct comparisons I make will be with that.

The first thing to say is also the most obvious: the voice has matured in the intervening years, and so has his interpretation of the character. This miller boy sounds older (and wiser?) than he did with Uchida. There is less youthful impetuosity than in the earlier reading, and even a few tantalising hints, such as in “Wohin?”, that he knows that following the brook might lead him to doom rather than bliss. The lyricism is undimmed, though, and we get the interpretation of a singer who has lived with this music for decades. Bostridge knows and understands every phrase, endowing it with musical and literary meaning in a way that few other tenors could match. His vocal acting has seldom been finer, and I don’t just mean the deep voice he puts on for the master in “Am Feierabend”. Much more importantly, his voice conveys the emotional pain and searing loss of a young lover going through the wringer. In “Eifersucht und Stolz”, for example, there is a stab of pain in every word as he delineates, with almost masochistic pleasure, the girl’s inconstancies, and the end of “Trockne Blumen” carries lingering anguish.

I didn’t imagine that Saskia Giogini would be able to hold a candle to Mitsuko Uchida, but actually she’s terrific. Her pianism is every bit as insightful as Bostridge’s vocal line, and contributes just as much to the drama. It pulses with genuine excitement at the first sight of the brook in “Halt!” and ripples with genuine impetuosity in “Ungeduld”. Her chords in “Dankgesang an den Bach” have the overtones of a hymn, while the stilled lute of “Pause” and the funereal tread of “Die liebe Farbe” are magnificent.

She and Bostridge make an excellent team. The examples of their synthesis are numerous, but I especially loved the end of “Tränenregen”, a heart-stoppingly lovely account of the boy and girl gazing at their reflection in the river, until the final lines where she misinterprets his tears as rain and promptly decides to go home. The piano and voice combine, transforming an atmosphere of stilled beauty into callous disregard in only a few bars. The live-ness of the occasion must have helped, but I could detect nary a hint of audience noise, and the recorded sound is excellent, too.

So this is a very fine Müllerin, worthy to set alongside Bostridge’s earlier performance with Uchida, and a fascinating complement to it. Only two minor gripes, both to do with the packaging. Pentatone provide texts and translations, as well as two interesting essays from the artists, but the booklet is glued into the CD case so you can’t hold one without the other, something that is the label’s habit but which I find rather irritating. Secondly, they don’t translate each song’s title – for that you only get the German – which seems a strange oversight. However, it isn’t enough to mar an overall excellent release.

Simon Thompson