Vienna: City of Dreams – Matthias Goerne & Christoph Eschenbach at Carnegie Hall – Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin

Die schöne Müllerin, D795

Matthias Goerne (baritone) & Christoph Eschenbach (piano)

Reviewed by: David M. Rice

Reviewed: 5 March, 2014
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

Matthias Goerne. Photograph: © 2008 Marco Borggreve for harmonia mundi This performance by Matthias Goerne and Christoph Eschenbach of Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin is part of Carnegie Hall’s ambitious “Vienna: City of Dreams” festival. Goerne’s beautiful voice and fine musicianship have made him one of today’s leading interpreters of Lieder. He is engaged in an ongoing Schubert-Edition project with Harmonia Mundi. Eschenbach accompanied Goerne on two of the eight (so far) recordings, including Die schöne Müllerin, and he played excellently on this occasion.

In the first part of the cycle, a wandering lad confides his feelings to a babbling brook as he apprentices at a mill and falls in love with the miller’s daughter. Goerne robustly attacked the opening song, ‘Das Wandern’, at a fairly quick tempo, shaping his phrasing and varying his intonation when lines repeated. In ‘Danksagung an den Bach’ his unhurried pace and delicate phrasing brought the wanderer’s character vividly to life, and his happiness virtually exploded in ‘Am Feierabend’. But it was in ‘Der Neugierige’, the last song in this dialogue with the brook, that Goerne’s gorgeous timbre came to the fore to express the intensity of the young man’s feelings for the object of his affections.

Christoph Eschenbach. Photograph: Michael TammaroThe cycle alternates, more or less, between fortissimo, fast-paced outbursts of excitement and later of anger, and sweeter expressions of love and, by the story’s end, despair. Goerne’s sheer power was impressive in the shattering climaxes of the upbeat ‘Ungeduld’ and ‘Mein’, and again in the bitter resentment of the hunter who steals the maiden’s affections – ‘Der Jäger’, ‘Eifersucht und Stolz’ and ‘Die böse Farbe’. But it was the slower and more lyrical songs that benefitted most from Goerne’s superb qualities. The protagonist’s initial joy shone through in ‘Morgengruß’ and ‘Des Müller’s Blumen’, and even more glorious was ‘Tränenregen’, at the mid-point of the cycle, still before the arrival of the hunter reverses the miller’s fortunes.

The final three songs, in which the protagonist decides to drown himself in the brook, were achingly beautiful. In ‘Trockne Blumen’ Goerne imparted a different character to each of the three repetitions of the final stanza, leading into Eschenbach’s darkly played postlude, and then in the dialogue of ‘Der Müller und der Bach’, he ably differentiated the resigned expression of the doomed man from that of the more optimistic brook. Goerne took the final song, ‘Des Baches Wiegenlied’, in which the stream sings a lullaby to the young suicide, at the slowest possible pace, drawing pathos from virtually every word. His hushed intonation of “In dem blauen, kristallenen Kämmerlein”, the water’s self-description as a blue crystal chamber, and the concluding line’s reference to heaven above, “Und der Himmel da oben, wie ist er so weit!”, were especially moving.

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