Schubert: Die schöne Müllerin

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COMPOSERS: Schubert
LABELS: Deutsche Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Die schöne Müllerin
PERFORMER: Christoph Prégardien (tenor), Andreas Staier (fortepiano)
CATALOGUE NO: 05472 77273 2 DDD
Christoph Prégardien, the fresh-voiced German tenor, generally better known for his performances of Baroque opera and oratorio than for Lieder, sets out on his wanderings as the Miller’s apprentice on a distinctly high-fibre breakfast. Peter Schreier (Decca 430 414-2) has shown, definitively, how the buoyancy and youthful disillusionment of this cycle can ring out of the particular colour of plangency of the tenor voice. Prégardien, though less in the style of a heightened poetry reading than Schreier, offers a Schöne Müllerin as alert and intensely engaged as any in recent years.

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Prégardien’s open-voiced, wide-eyed sense of anticipation, heart and voice rushing with the mill-race in every propelling consonant, is matched by the energetic mill-wheel of Andreas Staier’s rattling fortepiano. At Schubert’s first hints of minor-key pathos, at his first really slow tempi, the contrast is breathtakingly telling.

When, just over halfway through the cycle, the young lover asks whether the lute’s plucked notes are an echo of love’s pain or the prelude to new song, Prégardien shows himself the eternal optimist. Andreas Schmidt, on the other hand, solemnly goes for the first option. Whereas, with Prégardien, hope never quite dies until the appearance of the dastardly hunter, Schmidt is in sombre mood from the start.

With a baritone ever leaner, ever more brightly focused, Schmidt responds to the sense of nature-worship implicit in the cycle’s shifting scenes, to the wonderment and yearning in his wanderings. Breath and tone control are refined, as slow tempi and restrained, spare accompaniment from Rudolf Jansen emphasise the emblematic quality of certain songs. The game that is hunted is death: the last two songs are as bleak and hypnotic as the end of Winterreise itself.

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Schmidt’s tendency to understatement does, though, in the end, short-change the emotional drama of this cycle. He is willing to offer only muted exultation for the ardour of songs such as ‘Mein’ and insufficient impetus for the driving momentum created by Schubert to express the youthful panic of jealousy and pride. Hilary Finch