Die schöne Müllerin
Iestyn Davies (countertenor), Joseph Middleton (piano)
Signum Classics SIGCD 697 64:22 mins
Countertenor Iestyn Davies celebrates his long association with St John’s, Cambridge with this recording of Schubert’s 1823 song cycle, exploring the sorrows of a love-lorn miller boy. The liner essay by eminent Schubertian Susan Youens links the songs to Wagnerian Eros and Thanatos, Blake and Chaucer, Goethe, minnesong and of course Schubert’s own illness. It’s a vast literary-musical landscape, but still, with already dozens of recordings of this monumental cycle, it is difficult to make new discoveries on such a well-trodden path. This highly polished performance from two superb musicians left me wanting a rawer characterisation of this mercurial, vulnerable protagonist.
Strophic songs, with their verbatim repetition of music over several verses, need a vivid, fluent realisation of poetry. Davies can sound a little too elegant and removed, with slightly anglicised German. In the faster songs, more percussive opening consonants and precise intonation are needed to convey the miller’s ebullience. The slower songs work beautifully; No. 4 ‘Danksagung an dem Bach’ and No. 18 ‘Trockne Blumen’ suit his approach perfectly, but in faster songs it is difficult to gain purchase on this silken-smooth surface. Middleton brings texture through his imaginative rendition of Schubert’s accompaniments. The recording quality is outstandingly clear.