Schubert: Die schöne Müllerin

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LABELS: RCA Victor Red Seal
WORKS: Die schöne Müllerin
PERFORMER: Håkan Hagegård (baritone), Emanuel Ax (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 61705 2 DDD
Die schöne Müllerin is Schubert’s best-known song-cycle, or used to be until the comparatively recent popularity of Winterreise. The Swedish baritone Håkan Hagegård faces competition not only from Fischer-Dieskau but baritones closer to his own age, like Olaf Bär, Wolfgang Holzmair and Andreas Schmidt. Hagegård is less of a smoothy than all of those; he has a refreshingly robust quality, and in the earlier songs his breezy roughness nicely matches the young miller’s hopeful ignorance. For my taste Emanuel Ax is not immune to the so-called accompanist’s occupational affliction of self-effacement, though his technique is not quite as watertight as you’d expect from such a world-class soloist and he’s uncomfortable in the treacherous heart-fluttering of ‘Ungeduld’. He could still have been recorded a bit louder, and who told Hagegård to lean away from the microphone when singing above forte? A pity that the pain at the heart of ‘Der Müller und der Bach’ is reduced by conventional salonish rubato; for the most part Hagegård conveys sincerity without preciousness. Adrian Jack