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Recordings

Franz Schubert: Dieschöne Müllerin
24 May 2006

SCHUBERT: Die schöne Müllerin

Franz Schubert's song cycle Die schöne Müllerin has received, in recent years, frequent attention with several fine recordings having been issued during this period.

Franz Schubert: Dieschöne Müllerin

Roman Trekel, baritone; Oliver Pohl, piano.

Oehms Classics OC 511 [CD]

$11.99  Click to buy

Roman Trekel brings his own sense of interpretation and nuance to the present recording, such that the performance of individual songs is as noteworthy as the overall effect of an emotional and narrative cycle. The writer Wilhelm Müller, on whose poetic work the song-cycle is based, conceived the series of texts with a frame, the outer poems being entitled "Der Dichter als Prolog" ("The Poet as a Prologue") and "Der Dichter als Epilog" ("The Poet as an Epilogue"). Although these two poems were not originally set by Schubert as part of the cycle, the printed texts are included in the notes to the present recording. The introductory poem functions as an invitation to the listener and a means to whet the curiosity of those who would gladly hear more of the adventures and hopes associated with the "Müllersknecht" ("miller's lad"). The ambivalence of optimism and frustration, of the brook and the mill, are then summarized in the concluding poem, so that the listener of the recording might reflect on the varying moods represented by singer and accompanist in this performance.

Already in the first song, starting in Schubert's cycle with "Das Wandern" ["Wandering"], the characteristic motifs of water and stream combined with wandering during a journey are effectively expressed through Trekel's vocal colorations. Complementary rhythms of voice and accompaniment suggest in Trekel's and Oliver Pohl's interpretation � a regular, external motion interwoven with inner contemplation and shifts in emotion. Together with songs two and three of the presentation here, a triad of anticipation is formed indicating motion toward the goal of the Müllerin who is first mentioned in the fourth song, "Danksagung an den Bach" ["Thanksgiving to the Stream"]. Trekel's enunciation and emphases set up an intimate friendship and dialogue with the Bach, or stream, that will lead him to the mill and the presence of the maid. In the second song, "Wohin?" ["Whither?"], Trekel as wanderer enhances his relationship with the stream in strophe two by intoning "hinunter" ["downward"] for the direction of his staff in order to identify with the natural, vertical motion of the stream spilling from the rocks, already described in the preceding strophe. In this dialogue with his partner in nature, Trekel poses such requisite questions, as "War es also gemeint?" ["Is that what you meant?"], with the suggestion of a secret communication that is, at once, fulfillment yet anticipation. As part of this communication, Trekel's vocal modulations suggest the external ambitions of working at the mill together with the emotional and erotic attractions for the maid. When he catches sight of the miller's house in Song 3, "Halt!" ["Stop!"], his voice descends to a whispering intimacy of discovery and wonder; here the tone achieved by Trekel moves from self-reflective musing to further questions for his confidante, the stream. As the lad attempts to adjust to the perception of his goals, the possibilities are matched by Trekel's varying his emphases between enthusiasm and caution. Once he has reached the chance for fulfillment in both spheres — labor and emotion — Trekel's voice celebrates in a tone of peaceful satisfaction the conjoining of the two at the close of Song 4, "Für die Hände, für’s Herze / Vollauf genug!” [“For the hands, for the heart / Enough and even more!”].

In the interpretation here achieved of Songs 5-11, Trekel’s persona remains in the proximity of the maid and reflects on his opportunities to ensure an emotional satisfaction. The progression of thought and feeling is underscored by the singer’s and accompanist’s emphasis of thematic connections between these songs, hence showing an inner development while the external activities remain constant. The dew in the flowers of Song 10, “Des Müller’s Blumen” [“The Miller’s Flowers”], is intoned to prepare for the manifold associations of the tears in the immediately following song, “Tränenregen” [“Shower of Tears”]. In much the same way, the frenetic accompaniment of Song 7, “Ungeduld” [“Impatience”], leads into the later peals of joy in Song 11, “Mein!” [“Mine!”]: here Trekel’s eager lad banishes the control of the steam and natural forces in general by announcing to all that the maiden is “mein.”

Indeed the song “Mein” functions as a turning point after which the softer and more contemplative tones of Trekel waver between shades that are realistic or melancholy. At first the lad is so burdened with emotion that he cannot sing. He hangs his lute on the wall with a green ribbon attached in the song “Pause.” The use of “green,” with both positive and negative associations, functions as a recurring motif throughout the second half of the song-cycle. Although it is a color beloved of the maiden, her attentions are later focused on a hunter also associated with hues of green. Incipient attempts by the lad to please the maiden’s desire for the color alter with the jealousy and disappointment seen in its very essence. Those songs before the final resignation of the lad at the conclusion of the cycle display in this recording a range of competing emotions. Trekel invests Song 16, “Die liebe Farbe,” [“The beloved Color”], with a sense of elegiac sadness, so that the line “Mein Schatz hat’s Grün so gern,” [“My beloved likes green so much”] speaks still of his devotion with the realization that she is lost to him. In the second strophe the call to a joyous hunt, “Wohlauf zum fröhlichen Jagen!” [“Up we go to the joyful hunt”!] gives in this performance the impression not of joy in the wood, but rather of a funereal procession. An abrupt burst of feeling in the following song, “Die böse Farbe” [“The dreadful color”], signals for Trekel both a farewell to the maiden and a recurrence of his earlier enthusiasm. Such energetic feelings are, however, short-lived, as Song 18, “Trockne Blumen” [“Dried Flowers”], indicates. Here Trekel addresses the flowers given him by the maiden, now destined for his grave, and intones with poignant irony the most memorable verses in this recording: “Der Mai ist kommen, der Winter ist aus” [“May has arrived, winter has departed”]: his love, although unreciprocated, will match the cycle of nature. The final song is given to the comforting voice of the stream, “Des Baches Wiegenlied” [“Lullaby of the Stream”], in a resolution that points to an ultimate resting place in nature. In this longest song of the cycle, with an intricate strophic accompaniment, Trekel varies his intonation by singing vowels with a distinctly full tone, in order to give a different color to the voice of the stream. With an appropriate thematic gesture recalling the start of the cycle, Trekel and Pohl conclude a performance that will surely rank among the finest of Schubert’s “Schöne Müllerin.”

Salvatore Calomino
Madison, Wisconsin

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