Schubert, Franz : Die schöne Müllerin – Samuel Hassehorn, Ammiel Bushakevitz – Harmonia Mundi 902720 (68’31) *****
Schubert’s famous cycle Die schöne Müllerin is one of his two collaborations with the German Romantic poet Wilhelm Muller. Much taken with these seemingly simple verses, Schubert set them to 20 short pieces for piano and voice that constitute a perfect narrative and musical experience of just over an hour. Harmonia Mundi has already paid Schubert the great honor of a massive set of Schubert’s work sung by Matthias Goerne, divided into 12 recitals with 7 different pianists. Now this fine label looks to deliver to another series featuring the partnership of baritone Samuel Hasselhorn and pianist Ammiel Bushakevitz.
Die schöne Müllerin is on any short list of masterpieces that can be enjoyed by experienced listeners as well as the newcomer to classical music. From the very first song, Das Wandern, we fall into a radiant musical world; Two characters, the piano and the voice play with and around each other. There are clever references to natural sounds, divergences from the harmonic path, dynamic shifts, pauses, sighs, hallucinations. It is about as dramatic a duo as you can imagine. Especially when played with so much gusto as these fine musicians bring to the piece.
The introductory song, Wandern starts off with the most cheerful melody on the lips of the wayfarer. His journey starts off with hope and love for the world; he is eager to find his place in it. The miller finds in the humble images of his miller’s life happy prompting towards motion water, wheels and even grinding stones announce direction and purpose. In the second song, Wohin he takes his bearings.The music suggests questioning, He fetches up in Halt! at a mill after committing himself to a stream which supplies the Rauschende “rushing” effect redundantly throughout on the piano).
Next he beholds with wonder the miller’s fair daughter and the mischief begins; From this point on , however, we are not sure if the action is external or internal. We are in the typical Romantic fog, everything is veiled, deceptive, dubious.
In short he tries to insinuate himself into the scene there, win his beloved’s love. However, he finds himself on the periphery, excluded as if by a self-inflicted curse. Thereafter he moons about like the Suffering Werther who established the model for this sort of desperate character, and interrogates nature to tell him how to proceed. The maid says just two phrases to him in what appears to be an aborted tryst: “It is going to shower and good-bye. The water has conspired against him.
Obsession begins to take over in a progression from curiosity to possessiveness “Mein!” to impatience and then finally feverish jealousy, when a rival enters the scene and the Miller’s rout is total. The musical rhetoric is perfectly realized; the text banal, in the extreme and even worse in English translation is somehow fully animated by means of a Schubertian alchemy.
Dejection and and forlorn pointless wandering then take our hero on the downward spiral ending up like Ophelia more or less floating in the murky stream. Here the melodrama is inspissated even by Romantic standards and the artist must strive to make it theatrically plausible. It helps that these are some of the most effecting of all Schubert melodies. Die Muller und der Bach is somber and shiver producing. The final Wiegenlied is a lullaby of pure simplicity, all is forgiveness and kindness. Fittingly the piano has the last word, some major keys ripples as the last bubbles from the drowning miller dissipate what is left of his spent spirit. Here the artists reach a high standard of art song.
One can only applaud the stellar performance of Hasselhorn, a truly gifted singer with a keenest attention to detail and phrasing. He is better served in recording than the aforementioned Goerne version, if one doesn’t mind sitting about as close as the page-turner, The pianist too impresses with his intelligent reading of the score. The performers choose some brighter tempos on a few of the songs and play around with dynamics here and there but everything they do seems to make perfect Schubertian sense to me.
In all regards this is a fantastic offering; one waits with impatience for volume two.