Schubert Schöne Müllerin (Die)
An absolutely enthralling account of the cycle on virtually every count that seriously challenges the hegemony of the many desirable versions already available. In the first place Gura must have about the most beautiful voice ever to have recorded the work in the original keys (and I haven’t overlooked Wunderlich, a far less perceptive interpreter). Its owner has a technique second to none, able to vary his tone, sing a lovely pianissimo and/or a long-breathed phrase with perfect control. Then no musical or verbal subtlety seems to escape him at any stage of the young man’s disillusioning journey from happiness to misery and death.
The plaintive quality of his voice and its youthful sap are precisely right for conveying the protagonist’s vulnerability and, where needed, his self-pity. That great song ‘Der Neugierige’ encapsulates these virtues, with the final couplet of questioning the brook immaculately done, just as the pp at the close of the previous song is given a curious sense of uncertainty on the boy’s part. The three strophic songs are finely varied: here, as throughout, the use of rubato is natural and inevitable and the integration of singer and pianist, who is happily playing a Bechstein, are at their most compelling.
‘Mein’ is properly eager, expectant, ‘Pause’ as plangent as it should be, especially at its end. The frenetic anger of the 14th and 15th songs is as over-heated as it should be, ‘Die liebe Farbe’ rightly hypnotic. In those great songs, ‘Trockne Blumen’ and ‘Der Muller und der Bach’, both artists go to the heart of the matter, and the final lullaby is soft-grained and consoling. Schultsz’s contributions are sometimes controversial, always challenging.
Gura surpasses even the Gramophone Award-winning Bostridge, simply because his voice is under even better control and because his German is obviously more idiomatic. The Pregardien/Staier version, using a fortepiano, is almost austere – more reticent, more inward, than the new one and far from being outclassed by it. Gura and his pianist now share honours with that DHM recording among tenor recordings. Were it available on CD rather than simply on cassette, the CfP performance by the Partridges (11/73), at bargain price, would also be a fit rival to the newcomers, enjoying similar assets (can’t someone reissue it on CD?). The Harmonia Mundi sound, in spite of some reverberance, catches voice and piano in ideal balance.'