Schubert: Die schöne Müllerin

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Schubert
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Die schöne Müllerin
PERFORMER: Christian Elsner (tenor), Ulrich Eisenlohr (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.554664
For anyone building a Lieder collection on a shoestring, this latest offering in Naxos’s Schubert Edition certainly has its points. A touch of strain on high notes apart, Christian Elsner fields a personable lyric tenor, and with thoughtful phrasing and clear, forward diction gives a pleasing, unaffected account of the cycle. He varies his tone and attack aptly for, say, the successive verses of ‘Das Wandern’ (abetted by Ulrich Eisenlohr’s alert accompaniment); the pivotal song in the cycle, ‘Pause’, sensitively shaped and inflected; and both the desolate ‘Die liebe Farbe’ and the climactic ‘Trockne Blumen’ are touching in their directness and simplicity.

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That said, though, Elsner’s responses can too often seem generalised. The second song, ‘Wohin’, is sung agreeably enough, albeit with some less than scrupulous legato. But Elsner only vaguely suggests the song’s mingled wonder and unease: he appears not to register the darkening of mood and harmony at ‘Hinunter und immer weiter’, for instance, and misses the sense of tremulous anticipation at ‘Ist das denn meine Strasse?’ near the end. And though the group of strophic songs in the centre of the cycle are intelligently characterised (the girl’s banal words at the close of ‘Tränenregen’ nicely pointed), Elsner sounds over-cautious in the potentially ecstatic ‘Mein’, and too mild both in anger and pain at the arrival of the glamorous huntsman. If you’re happy with a well-sung, rather understated reading, this is certainly worth considering at under a fiver. But among rival tenor versions those by Ian Bostridge – eager, vulnerable, confiding – and Peter Schreier, who probes more searchingly than anyone the cycle’s extremes of elation and despair, offer altogether richer, more engulfing experiences. Richard Wigmore