Schubert: Die schöne Müllerin

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COMPOSERS: Schubert
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Die schöne Müllerin
PERFORMER: Werner Güra (tenor), Jan Schultsz (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 901708
With his pure, silvery timbre and refined sense of phrase, Werner Güra is surely the finest young German lyric tenor around today. For sheer beauty and evenness of singing in this cycle you’d have to go back to Fritz Wunderlich’s 1966 DG recording. But, more than Wunderlich, Güra penetrates to the heart of Müller’s and Schubert’s innocent, vulnerable, ultimately doomed youth. From the opening ‘Das Wandern’, sung freshly and eagerly, without a trace of lederhosen heartiness, Güra catches perfectly the apprentice’s mingled ardour and longing; the second song, ‘Wohin?’, has a real sense of wonder, with a new urgency at ‘Ist das denn meine Strasse?’; and the excited anticipation of ‘Halt’, ‘Am Feierabend’ and ‘Ungeduld’ is graphically conveyed without compromising the legato line. Güra intelligently varies his tone and phrasing in the group of strophic songs at the centre of the cycle, while for its combination of grace (no hint of bumping in the ‘yodelling’ quavers) and exultation, the climactic ‘Mein’ is surely unsurpassed on disc.

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Güra finds a hard edge to the tone at the arrival of the usurping huntsman. And if ‘Die liebe Farbe’ is less bleak than from, say, Ian Bostridge (on Hyperion), the two final songs are hypnotic in their rarefied tenderness and beauty of line. Though caught in an over-resonant church acoustic, Jan Schultsz is a discerning, imaginative partner with a sharp ear for hidden inner strands in the texture – listen, for instance, to the mesmeric tolling effect he creates in ‘Wohin?’ This Schöne Müllerin may not quite have the haunted, tragic intensity distilled by Peter Schreier and András Schiff, still by a whisker my own favourite tenor version. But Güra matches the widely praised recording by Ian Bostridge in poignancy and confiding immediacy, and scores over the English tenor with his sappier, more virile tone. Richard Wigmore