SCHUBERT: Die Schöne Müllerin – Florian Boesch, baritone/ Malcolm Martineau, piano – Onyx 4112, 62:45 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] (12/10/13) ****:

We missed the same team’s recording of Winterreise that was hailed by a number of critics, though it’s hard to imagine it being better than the recent version by Christoph Pregardien, an SACD on Challenge Classics. Nevertheless some due must be given to critical consensus that says Boesch’s accomplishment is a substantial one. Yet I am not completely sold on this new issue of The Miller’s Tale. Perhaps it is an innate reaction to the baritone; the protagonist is supposed to be a very youthful and lovesick man, whereas the baritone voice masks that element of the portrayal. Fischer-Dieskau could sell it; his several versions are all textbook definitions of Schubertian spirit, and he was able to lighten his voice through the use of heavily emoted projections of the text, inhabiting the character as few have, despite the hampering of the vocal range. These days a sort of “new lieder orthodoxy” seems to have set in among many singers who reject any kind of infused emotion or overtly manipulated interpretation. One only has to listen to the Schubert of Elizabeth Schwarzkopf compared to that of Kathleen Battle, just for example, in order to hear the difference. Despite the latter’s unparalleled vocal beauty, it is the German singer who more effectively presents the music from the innermost circle of Schubert’s muse, having sung during an age where artists were more given to artful behavior.

This is not to say that Boesch lacks passion and emotion—that would be unfair. But I do get the impression that much is being held in check and an especial high percentage of the overall flavor of the performance given over instead to the technical aspects of the presentation. Intonation, diction, control, and most of all beauty of sound—of which there is a high abundance—are the dominating factors here with depth of emotion secondary. Boesch’s baritone is not a terrible hindrance—his voice has a lithe lightness to it that does not get in the way—too much—of the believability of the entire scenario. Though I still continue to prefer the tenor voice in this music, Boesch makes his case well, and there is a lot to be said for pure enjoyment of vocal excellence. Not a primary recommendation, but a worthy contender, especially among baritone recordings.

— Steven Ritter