Schubert: Die schöne Müllerin

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WORKS: Die schöne Müllerin
PERFORMER: Brigitte Fassbaender (mezzo), Aribert Reimann (piano)
New, dappled light is cast on Schubert’s Fair Maid of the Mill in two releases which challenge conventional performance wisdom. Peter Schreier’s recording of a gently decorated version of the song cycle, following the documented practice of Schubert’s own great singer-friend, Johann Michael Vogl, heightens an already minutely expressive performance. Just as Norman Shetler’s piano playing picks up every scent, every image with the keenest of antennae, so Schreier’s voice intensifies the melodic line with a passing trill of ardour, a turn of tenderness or of tears. A vocal ornament can act as a bobbing bow of coy greeting, or can caress from above a single word of gratitude. This recording, long awaited, is an outstanding one in the history of the work.


Brigitte Fassbaender extends her performance by reciting the prologue, epilogue and three of Müller’s poems not set by Schubert. But the recitations disturb the cycle’s momentum, and sentimental verse is no substitute for the emotional effect of harmonic sequence. In a resonant acoustic, the liberties Fassbaender takes with rhythm, and her tendency to lunge at a note, can blunt the emotions she seeks to express. And Müller’s coy, undercutting epilogue is surely the last thing Schubert would have wanted.