Schubert: Die schöne Müllerin

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COMPOSERS: Schubert
LABELS: Hanssler
WORKS: Die schöne Müllerin
PERFORMER: Andreas Schmidt (baritone); Rudolf Jansen (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CD 98.373
The most outstanding recordings of Die schöne Müllerin in recent years have come from tenors. The cycle does, after all, have to be transposed down for baritones and, because this voice performs the work most eloquently when it is in its youthful prime, even Fischer-Dieskau stopped singing it in public as early as 1973.

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So Andreas Schmidt is just in time. And his baritone is, indeed, still light and supple enough to follow the lovelorn miller’s apprentice through his fever and his fret. The clear, unforced articulation and instinctive phrasing that is so much Schmidt’s hallmark brings great beauty to the more contemplative songs. And in his thanksgiving to the brook, his questionings and, particularly, his midway ‘Pause’, his partnership with his faithful accompanist, Rudolf Jansen, is telling.

But in the more robust songs, Schmidt draws back. His admirable rhythmic energy never quite becomes expressive of any particular emotion: ‘Mein!’ is not fired by passion, nor is ‘Der Jäger’ propelled by any real sense of anger or frustration. The heart simply doesn’t catch fire.

At the other end of the expressive spectrum, Ian Bostridge (for the Hyperion Schubert Edition, with Fischer-Dieskau reading) offers the archetype of raw, tender-skinned emotion. And, most recently, Werner Güra (Harmonia Mundi) presented one of the most beautifully sung and expressively scaled cycles on disc.

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In the baritone voice, though, where Fischer-Dieskau’s 1968 version with Jörg Demus is my favourite, I currently cherish most Wolfgang Holzmair’s recording with Imogen Cooper. It’s every bit as perceptive as Fischer-Dieskau’s, but with a welcome illusion of fresh and tender spontaneity which the Master’s great but all-too-definitive performance misses. Hilary Finch