Schubert: Die schöne Müllerin

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Schubert
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Die schöne Müllerin
PERFORMER: Matthias Goerne (baritone); Eric Schneider (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 470 025-2
In the right repertoire – Winterreise, say, or Brahms’s Vier ernste Gesänge – Matthias Goerne can be as moving as any Lieder singer today. About his Die schöne Müllerin, though, I am not so sure. Goerne’s dark, velvet baritone is, as ever, a pleasure in itself; and he shows his customary scrupulous care for legato and broad, arching phrasing. His apprentice miller is, even in the early songs, an intensely introspective, melancholy dreamer. And herein lies one of the problems for me: in Goerne’s interpretation, the miller seems elegiacally resigned to his fate almost from the outset. ‘Wohin’ is doleful rather than wondering, while ‘Der Neugierige’, taken implausibly slowly, suggests numb reverie rather than longing and anxious uncertainty. He is certainly compelling in the outrage of ‘Der Jäger’ and the mingled bitterness and heartbreak of ‘Eifersucht und Stolz’. But the songs from ‘Die liebe Farbe’ onwards are hampered by extraordinarily protracted tempi. Between them the last three numbers notch up over 20 minutes, against around 13 in most performances; and for all the baritone’s mesmeric intensity of line, the effect is ultimately enervating and self-indulgent.

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Paid-up Goerne fans will remain undeterred by these criticisms, and by Eric Schneider’s often prosaic, heavy-handed playing. But for the uncommitted, the recommendable baritone versions of the cycle remain the neurotically probing Fischer-Dieskau, 1961 vintage, and the more straightforward, ‘normal’ Holzmair, both of whom penetrate deeply into the cycle without recourse to Goerne’s eccentrically slow tempi. Richard Wigmore