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Schubert: The Fair Maid of the Mill

Nicky Spence (tenor), Christopher Glynn (piano) (Signum Classics)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Schubert
The Fair Maid of the Mill (in English)
Nicky Spence (tenor), Christopher Glynn (piano)
Signum Classics SIGCD711   63:25 mins

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Jeremy Sams’s recent English translation of Schubert’s song cycle Die schöne Müllerin was commissioned by pianist Christopher Glynn, and tenor Nicky Spence is its ideal protagonist. It’s a fairly loose translation, the German remade in an English vernacular that fits Schubert’s romantic, wandering miller, and the endlessly circular wonderings and what-ifs of young obsessive love. Sometimes the words jar, but less so on repeated listening – something you will want to do.

Nicky Spence ranges with great nuance through romance, awkwardness, brashness, self-doubt, the madness and loneliness of unrequited love, the vulnerability, all done with that little bit of theatricality that is there in the original Wilhelm Müller poem cycle. His miller is volatile and very human, deeply moving in ‘Her favourite colour’, with a brief glancing blow of bitter bite against the hunter who steals ‘his’ love.

‘The Brook Sings a Lullaby’ finale is quietly devastating, Spence building its impact slowly, vocally tender and protective; Glynn ever-skilfully evoking the smooth, soothing currents as the brook asks the loitering maid to throw her shawl in to cover the drowned miller’s face, and we look musically up through the ever-flowing waters to the stars so very distant above.

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Sarah Urwin Jones