Die schöne Müllerin, D795
Matthias Goerne (baritone) & Pierre-Laurent Aimard (piano)
Reviewed by: Mark Valencia
Reviewed: 18 June, 2011
Venue: Snape Maltings, Aldeburgh, Suffolk
For the first in a triptych of Schubert evenings, Matthias Goerne and Pierre-Laurent Aimard essayed what in theory is the more straightforward of Schubert’s two Müller epics. But Die schöne Müllerin is a deceptive beast, for while the singer who tackles Winterreise needs staying power akin to that of a long-distance runner, the earlier cycle is so variegated that only a vocal decathlete can hope to do it justice. To pursue the analogy, as Goerne worked through the songs some of his disciplines proved to be stronger than others. He failed at the sprint, lacking the necessary agility for ‘Ungeduld’, and his middle-distance skill was found wanting too as he made heavy weather of the slower ‘Morgengruss’. When it came to the hurdles, Goerne fell at the first: the opening song, ‘Das Wandern’, defeated him badly as he struggled with the interval leaps, snatched at the ends of lines and gasped noisily for breath.
Goerne’s tonal quality is darker than that of many baritones who attempt this cycle, and it only really came into its own in the fruitier songs and in those that most resemble Winterreise. The flickering flames of ‘Am Feierabend’ drew fiery sparks, while in ‘Der Neugierige’ time stood as still as it does in the later cycle’s ‘Das Wirtshaus’. The minor-key beauty of ‘Die liebe Farbe’ gained an incisively romantic edge thanks to the singer’s impassioned delivery, but the following setting, the lively ‘Die böse Farbe’, suffered from range issues: although Goerne sang most of it ringingly, the low-lying “Ich” at the start of each strophe barely registered.
The baritone’s Germanic warmth was partnered by the Festival Artistic Director’s Gallic coolness in a way that did not always make for comfortable listening but which certainly held the attention. Aimard is renowned for his Messiaen and Ravel, but it was Debussy who sprang to mind in his detached, limpid pianism. With his contained playing and minimal physical movement he was less a foil than an antidote to Goerne’s fervent interpretation, nowhere more so than in ‘Pause’ (although here, as elsewhere in the performance, Aimard’s generous use of the sustaining pedal tended to produce an unfortunate effect whenever he lifted his foot).
Beyond the cycle’s midpoint the duo’s fortunes underwent a marked change for the better. The partnership became transmuted into something more than the sum of its parts during a segued sequence that began with ‘Mit dem grünen Lautenbande’ and did not pause for breath until the urgent close of ‘Eifersucht und Stolz’. By the time they reached the last two songs in the cycle both artists were deep inside the music, and the precision of Goerne’s chromatic pitching in ‘Der Müller und der Bach’ was breathtaking. The collaborative music-making had risen to a very high order indeed – and there it was to remain for a transcendent, intensely moving reading of Winterreise by the same team just twenty-four hours later.