Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Die schöne Müllerin D.795 (1824)
Gerald Finley (baritone)
Julius Drake (piano)
rec. 2021, Henry Wood Hall, London
German texts and English translations
HYPERION CDA68377 
This release completes Gerald Finley’s survey of Schubert’s song cycles accompanied by his regular pianistic partner, Julius Drake. Despite recording this aged 61 and even having sung Wagnerian roles, Finley has preserved his voice remarkably well; it is as even, resonant, firm-toned and beautiful as ever – a simply lovely instrument. He has variously been described as both a baritone and a bass-baritone, which testifies to the range and versatility of his voice; not many singers could have had so long and successful career singing roles encompassing the range of Hans Sachs, Gurnemanz, Falstaff and Bluebeard while also excelling in Bach cantatas and the Lieder repertoire.
His refinement is such that I occasionally find him to be a restrained, understated artist, and that was my only reservation concerning his 2013 account of Winterreise, as per my survey of that cycle. That is not the case here; I generally prefer a tenor in Die schöne Müllerin but perhaps to compensate for the inevitable gravitas of a lower, deeper voice, Finley and Drake first attack these songs with considerable pace and exuberance, in order to suggest youth and even the boyishness or immaturity of the desperate, lovestruck young man. In the earlier songs, Finley also occasionally adds some little grace notes not in the score enhances their lighter, insouciant nature before the crisis.
Finley’s German fluency is impeccable; the words trip neatly off his tongue and vocally, nothing he does is exaggerated or self-conscious - unlike the approach of certain celebrated German baritones I could name – nor is there any hint of the throaty, strangulated quality which too many singers – again, often Germanic baritones - inject into their vocal production, and despite the resonance of his low notes his voice always maintains a light, floating quality. You have only to listen to how skilfully he draws the requisite tonal contrast between the Miller’s stern-voiced “Euer Werk hat mir gefallen” and the Miller Maid’s sweet “Allen eine gute Nacht”, to know that you are listening to a master story-teller. The steadiness and smooth legato of passages such as “O Bächlein, meine Liebe” bear witness to the complete absence of wear in Finley’s tone – there is never any suggestion of the dreaded wobble so prevalent today among singers; his vibrato is subtle and there merely to sustain the note, yet he has plenty of reserves of power without straining, as in the climax to “Trockne Blumen”.
Julius Drake is an ideal accompanist; his manner is perfectly in accord with Finley’s subtlety and sincerity - infinitely better, incidentally, than his accompaniment to Alice Coote's live Wigmore Hall Winterreise back in 2012 and much more akin to his partnership with Finely in the same song cycle mentioned above. The rapport between the two artists is ideal; they breathe as one in their phrasing. Sometimes I feel that the pianist is very slightly too far in the background for the balance to be perfect but that is perhaps a function of his discretion. That does not preclude plenty of bounce and emphasis in louder, livelier songs such as “Mein!” and there is real venom in “Der Jäger” and the song which follows hard on its heels, “Eifersucht und Stolz”, which almost form two halves of one song. The collaboration between singer and pianist is especially effective in the three last songs which are suffused with a bleak melancholy, yet the final slumber song is so gently intoned that it is almost comforting and consolatory, with the emphasis upon resurrection – “Bis alles wacht” (until all awaken).
The provision of complete texts and translations is an increasingly rare bonus. Richard Wigmore has written an extensive note providing a wealth of historical, contextual and musical guidance.
Wile my first choice in this song cycle rests with Fritz Wunderlich and Aksel Schiøtz, for baritone accounts I rank this new recording alongside – indeed, perhaps slightly above - those from Florian Boesch and Jorma Hynninen.