SCHUBERT Die schöne Müllerin
This certainly isn’t the most mellifluous Schöne Müllerin around. While Florian Boesch’s baritone is resonant and colourful, a dulcet legato and graceful shaping of phrases have never been his prime concerns. Yet if you can accept a measure of vocal unevenness, you’ll find his Schöne Müllerin an unflinching exploration of emotional extremes, with baritone and pianist in symbiotic partnership.
From the outset, Boesch’s miller boy swings disturbingly between macho exuberance, desolate self-questioning and lacerating anguish. ‘Ungeduld’ ends in a torrent of despair. Even the ostensibly relaxed central group of songs (‘Morgengruss’, ‘Des Müllers Blumen’ and ‘Tränenregen’) repeatedly shade into bleak reverie. ‘Mein!’, usually sung with ecstatic abandon, here sounds manically troubled, as Boesch implies it should in his booklet-note. It’s compelling on its own terms, though the rhythmic jolts and lurches, here and elsewhere, can be disconcerting, doubtless just as Boesch and Malcolm Martineau intended. If you expect this climactic song to ‘spin’, look elsewhere.
Hints of mental instability duly intensify after the appearance of the huntsman. ‘Der Jäger’ explodes in a crescendo of barely coherent rage. ‘Die liebe Farbe’, whispered in a frail, distracted quarter-voice, is not merely melancholy but traumatised. Then, after the numb, halting opening of ‘Der Müller und der Bach’, the healing process begins: an increase of tempo and a warming of the tone as Schubert moves from minor to major. Drawing on psychoanalytical theory, Boesch provocatively suggests that the miller does not drown himself, Ophelia-like, but survives, ‘ready for his next amorous adventure’. I’m not convinced, and I suspect Schubert wouldn’t be either. Heard without foreknowledge, Boesch’s serene, other-worldly final lullaby easily fits the familiar death-and transfiguration scenario.
Boesch’s daring emotional range is matched by the almost expressionist vividness of Martineau’s playing. He is especially good at balancing and voicing Schubert’s implied contrapuntal textures, as in ‘Tränenregen’. It is hardly Martineau’s fault that the downward transpositions can slightly muddy Schubert’s precisely imagined textures. If Fischer-Dieskau, 1961 vintage (EMI), and Thomas Quasthoff (DG) remain prime choices among baritone versions, the controversial Boesch and Martineau yield to none in no-holds-barred intensity.