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Schubert müllerin BSTC0175

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Die schöne Müllerin, D 795
Arranged for baritone and guitar by David Leisner
Michael Kelly (baritone), David Leisner (guitar)
rec. 2020, Dreamland Recording Studios, Hurley, USA
Sung texts with English translations enclosed
Reviewed as downloaded from press preview

Die schöne Müllerin with guitar accompaniment is not without predecessors. Peter Schreier and Konrad Ragossnig recorded it around 1980 for VEB Deutsche Schallplatten, though it doesn’t seem to be available on CD at the moment. And in the 1990s Swedish baritone Olle Persson and guitarist Mats Bergström recorded it for Caprice (CAP21575), which still is available. I heard them a couple of times in the flesh, and the difference from the original version with piano was striking. The frailer tones of the guitar invited the artists to a softer, more intimate approach, and even though on both occasions they performed in fairly large venues, the effect was that of a private party, some friends sitting in a living room, lit by the flames from a fireplace, the atmosphere rather hushed.

That’s also the feeling I get from this recording with Michael Kelly and David Leisner. Leisner, who is also a composer in his own right, has also made the transcriptions of the accompaniment, and he explains in the notes: “The art of arranging piano music for the guitar is one of elimination – how much can be subtracted in order to make it playable on my instrument and still retain the essence of the music, on all levels? Ideally, it must sound like authentic Schubert and, at the same time, sound as it was written for guitar. Performing this work on the guitar is not a stretch. Schubert played the guitar, and there is some evidence that he may have even composed some of his early songs on the guitar. Also, the guitar brings out the folk song roots of this music, as well as a deeper intimacy and a more varied colour palette.”

To me Leisner’s transcriptions sound perfectly idiomatic and might very well have been approved by Schubert himself, and he plays them with natural authority, as befits a composer performing his own works. The interplay between accompanist and singer is also well-timed.

Michael Kelly is, besides being a versatile singer in various genres and with a penchant for contemporary music, also a poet, whose poems have been set to music by several composers. As a Lied interpreter he here adopts a light tone, often soft and tender and with a wide array of nuances. He can also be powerful and dramatic, alternatively lively and jolly – lend an ear to Mein! (tr. 11) – but the overriding impression is of sweetness, tenderness and relaxation, which also implies rather slow tempos. At close to 73 minutes playing time he certainly belongs to the very slowest. The average timings are a bit over one hour – Persson/Bergström, who should be a natural comparison, take 62. At the other extreme Fritz Wunderlich clocks in at 54 minutes on a Hänssler recording from 1964, which seems a bit hectic. I haven’t heard this particular issue. Anyway, I have no feeling that Kelly/Leisner are dragging, they are only nicely relaxed, and it is a pleasure to savour the sweetness of Danksagung an den Bach, the soft and tender Morgengruss, the heartfelt Des Müllers Blumen sung with beautiful half-voice, and the last three songs: Trockne Blumen, soft, soft!, Der Müller und der Bach, so sensitively sung and the crowning glory Des Baches Wiegenlied. Immensely touching! I was enthralled by this reading and will return to it, but I can also understand those who may feel it too relaxed and want more action. For those the recent Signum recording with Nicky Spence (review) might be the answer. It is truly theatrical – maybe too much for some tastes – has a more mainstream playing time, but is sung in English, which may be controversial. Otherwise there is no shortage of recordings of Die schöne Müllerin. Tenors, baritones, even basses (Thomas Quasthoff), counter-tenors (Jochen Kowalski), contraltos (Nathalie Stutzmann), mezzo-sopranos (Brigitte Fassbaender) and sopranos (Lotte Lehmann). But if you are out for a baritone accompanied by guitar, there are, as far as I can see, only two options: Olle Persson/Mats Bergström and Michael Kelly/David Leisner. Try to sample both and then make your choice. A third option is: buy both. They are different but utterly attractive!

Göran Forsling
1, Das Wandern
2. Wohin?
3. Halt!
4. Danksagung an den Bach
5. Am Feierabend
6. Der Neugierige
7. Ungeduld
8. Morgengruss
9. Des Müllers Blumen
10. Tränenregen
11. Mein!
12. Pause
13. Mit dem grünen Lautenbande
14. Der Jäger
15. Eifersucht und Stolz
16. Die liebe Farbe
17. Die böse Farbe
18. Trockne Blumen
19. Der Müller und der Bach
20. Des Baches Wiegenlied

Published: November 21, 2022

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