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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Die Schöne Müllerin, Op.25, D795 [66:47]
Georg Lehner (baritone)
Dino Mastroyiannis (piano)
rec. live Cultural Centre of the Porphyrogenis Foundation, Agria, Volos, Greece, 10 April 2014. DDD
Texts not included in booklet.
SHEVA SH109 [66:47]

With so many excellent performances of Die Schöne Müllerin in the catalogue, any new recording needs to be very special. Had I been present at the concert where this Sheva recording was made and reviewed it for our sister site Seen and Heard I’m sure that I would have enjoyed it and would have said so.

A full-price recording, however, is a very different matter: there are more than 80 CDs and several other recordings on other media and too many of them have considerable merits to plump for one recommendation.

My first port of call is Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, who recorded the cycle several times with Gerald Moore:
Regis RRC1383, super-budget price, rec. 1951 – review
Alto ALC1207, super-budget price, rec. 1962: with Wanderers Nachtlied, etc. – review
Warner Masters 0852092, mid-price, rec. 1962 – review of earlier EMI GROC release
DG E4151862, or DG Presto 4536762, full-price, rec. 1972
DG 4777956, 3 budget-price CDs, the 1972 recording with Die Winterreise and Schwanengesang one of the great bargains of the catalogue (target price £13).

One Fischer-Dieskau recording which I can’t recommend was made far too late, in 1991, with Andras Schiff (Arthaus Music DVD 107269 – review). F-D’s voice was by then a pale shadow of itself and I simply cannot understand why it received such praise in many quarters but not from me or from Anne Ozorio writing about the earlier TDK release – review.

Even setting F-D aside as almost beyond analysis, and ignoring the many very fine tenor recordings, I listened for comparison to another baritone recording which had so far passed me by: Christopher Maltman and Graham Johnson, recorded live at the Wigmore Hall in December 2010. (WHLive0044) Incidentally, I can’t recommend the Qobuz stream or download to which I listened – it’s marred by some very intrusive bumps and bangs but the Naxos Music Library version seems free of these.

Even in the very first song, Das Wandern, the difference is apparent: Georg Lehner sings the notes and sings them well – I wish I could ever have sounded as good. Likewise Dino Mastroyiannis accompanies well – again would that I could – but it all sounds rather undifferentiated, with too little attempt to interpret the music, as Maltman and Johnson do.

In Wohin? Lehner and Mastroyiannis make more of an attempt to suggest the gently flowing brook which leads the journeyman to the mill but Maltman and Johnson on the Wigmore Hall recording are much more successful, challenging even Fischer-Dieskau and Moore. It’s not just that Maltman moulds and tempers his voice to the music much more, he’s also most sensitively accompanied, as one would expect with Johnson at the keyboard. The presence of the latter is one reason for the success of the Hyperion Schubert Edition, not least of their recording of Die Schöne Müllerin, with Ian Bostridge as soloist, available at mid-price on CDA30020, with Fischer-Dieskau reading those poems from the cycle which Schubert didn’t set – see Download News October 2010.

In Am Feierabend Lehner tries hard to distinguish between the voices of the miller who praises the protagonist’s work and the daughter who wishes them all Good Night but the result sounds forced whereas Maltman achieves the effect much more naturally and, with Johnson’s assistance, suggests his nervous hope that the daughter has noted his earnest intent.

Having set out to do some spot comparisons, I listened to the Wigmore Hall recording all through and found myself in happy agreement with John Quinn’s assessment of this as a recording to return to – review.

The reservations which I had felt before making any comparisons were magnified by listening to Maltman and Johnson. For too much of the time Lehner sings mezzo-forte to forte and Mastroyiannis accompanies him too obtrusively whereas Johnson knows when to stay in the background, just nudging the accompaniment along. The fortepianos of Schubert’s time would not have allowed such obtrusiveness, but there’s an additional problem in that the tone of Mastroyiannis’ Yamaha C3 is harsh. Maybe the recording is to blame rather than the instrument, since the back cover of the CD credits a piano technician as having been in attendance. Turning down the volume helped only to a limited extent: by the time that Lehner comes to the exultation of winning the daughter in Mein! there is not much left in the locker to be turned up. Actually, neither Maltman nor Bostridge overdoes the joy in this poem.

I lasted the course but with difficulty: I even found myself beginning to wonder if Die Schöne Müllerin really was the great and varied song cycle that I had long considered it.

Those who dislike applause will find that there is far too much of it here and it sounds rather desultory by contrast with the up-front performance and recording. While it’s sometimes possible to make allowances for the omission of texts with downloads, though it should not be necessary, there’s no excuse for not including them in the Sheva CD booklet: at a lower price both Wigmore Hall Live and Hyperion provide them. It seems almost superfluous to note that the timing given in the booklet is out by almost a minute.

Nothing would have given me greater pleasure than to recommend this recording, but there are too many problems with it and too many very good alternatives. Any one of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s recordings with Gerald Moore would do much better: why not go for the inexpensive 3-CD set if you don’t have his Winterreise or Schwanengesang? Having resisted digging out the box for comparison in this review, I’m now going to do exactly that.

Christopher Maltman and Graham Johnson also come at an attractive price as do Ian Bostridge and Graham Johnson for those who prefer a tenor (both around £8.75). Several other very fine recordings are listed in MWI Recommends.

Brian Wilson



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