Wednesday 27 July 2016

The youthful miller - Schubert's Die schöne Müllerin from Robert Murray

Schubert - Die schöne Müllerin - Robert Murray, Andrew West - Stone Records
Schubert Die schöne Müllerin; Robert Murray, Andrew West; Stone Records
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 20 2016
Star rating: 4.0

Vigorous and characterful account of Schubert's first great song-cycle

This new disc of Schubert's 1823 song cycle Die schöne Müllerin on Stone Records sees tenor Robert Murray and pianist Andrew West performing the work. The advantage of having a tenor performing is that we can hear it in Schubert's original higher keys and the relative brightness of the voice emphasises the character's youth.

Murray has had the cycle in his repertoire for over ten years, and even taken part in staged performances of the work. The most recent incorporating a hand puppet and accompanied by guitar and string ensemble! The recording, made in 2014, is thus the fruit of long experience performing the piece.

In his article introducing the recording Robert Murray talks about the character and how it is important to bear in mind that he is only around 16. Despite a tendency to talk to streams, flowers and stars (thanks partly to the poetic conventions of Wilhelm Müller's poetry) Murray also thinks that we should not burden the character with sickness but 'find a truth from his point of view, as he sees each moment'. Murray's miller is thus rather less introspective than some. He is young and vigorous, innocent, and rather open and direct yet prone to doubt and loneliness.

This sense of youthful vigour comes over from the opening bars, when Andrew West's mill stream is certainly vibrant and energetic, Robert Murray's performance matches this and he gives the young man a wonderfully youthful swagger.
There is also a lyric beauty to Murray's voice which comes out in songs like Wohin? and Danksagung an den Bach, whilst in Halt! both performers are vividly characterful with a sense of youthful enthusiasm. This feeling for the vigorous character continues in Am Feierabend whilst Der neugierige is beautifully shaped and rather haunting.

When singing quietly, Murray is able to bring a lovely intimacy and lyric beauty to his singing whilst the bright directness of his tone brings out the youthful character. Occasionally when he presses the voice too hard the recording catches a bit too much vibrato, and once or twice the singer's operatic experience breaks out. But he is not fearful of using the full variety of his voice to add character to the narrative. His words are also admirably clear, if you follow German you certainly do not need the booklet texts.

It is in songs like Ungeduld that Murray's operatic drama comes out the most, in a vibrant performance complemented by West's energetic piano. Morgengruss and Des Müllers Blumen are both gently intimate, with the latter having a sense of melancholy, and the lyric beauty continues into Tränenregen. The character's youth shows in Mein! where Murray brings out a sense of resolution, which makes the certainty underlying Pause all the more touching as we know what is to come.

By Mit dem grünen Lautenbande the young miller has got his bounce back, and then in Der Jäger there is a real sense of excitement building, with Murray really making the text work. Eifersucht und Stolz is very vigorous, this miller's anxiety takes a very physical form, and then the quietly intimate lyric beauty of Die liebe Farbe is heartbreaking. By contrast Die böse Farbe is all bitterness and energy, then Trockne Blumen has a resigned bleakness to its quiet beauty, we know that he won't bounce back again. Der Müller und der Bach receives a profoundly beautiful performance which touches too, and the final song Des Baches Wiegendlied is richly complex with great beauty of line.

Murray and West's young miller is a well-balanced rather swaggering young man, instinctive and not introspective. The two performers form a superb partnership with West's piano playing bring a rich layer of character to the whole performance. There is an engaging vigour to piece which I find rather refreshing.

Franz Schubert (1797-1828) - Die schöne Müllerin (1823) [64:15]
Robert Murray (tenor)
Andrew West (piano)
Recorded 6-9 October 2014, Britten Studio, Snape Maltings, Suffolk
STONE RECORDS 5060192780628 1CD [64:15]

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