My musical obsession two years ago was Winterreise,
So when I finally made my piece with that, it seemed logical to
move on to Die schoene Muellerin. I have only two recordings of this,
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's in EMI's GROC series, with Gerald Moore; and
Ian Bostridge's in the Hyperion Schubert Edition, with Graham Johnson,
who wrote some extensive and excellent notes on the cycle. I've been
supplementing my listening by reading Susan Youens's book on the cycle,
published as part of the Cambridge Music series. This book, which focuses
equally on the poetry and the music, is wonderful and an excellent aid
to approaching the cycle.
DFD's was the first one I owned and heard, and I've been listening to
it for over five years. It's fabulous. There's something about DFD
that I find believable, whether he's doing Schubert, Mahler, whatever.
I know the criticism: he's allegedly mannered and idiosyncratic, the
Glenn Gould of vocals. Doesn't matter. When he's singing Muellerin
or the Kindertotenlieder, I get the feeling that he is singing poetry,
not just reciting it.
This will probably be the year's greatest example of a listener unable
to get over imprinting, but I find the Bostridge traversal nearly
unlistenable in places. In Am Feierabend, for example, DFD is able to
summon the thought of the mill owner sitting down with the hired hands;
he's weighty, an important, paternal figure who speaks authoritatively
but generously to his workers. Bostridge, maybe because he's a tenor,
just does not have the vocal heft to portray this. In Des Muellers
Blumen there's a horrible clang at 0:25 on the word "Freund" that makes
it very clear that Bostridge is not a native German speaker. In Der
Jaeger, Bostridge scoops the first notes of a couple of phrases, which
to me makes it sound like he's in a group singalong; check the phrase
that starts at 0:38, and also the start of the concluding phrase.
But, until today, I've listened to the Bostridge disc often. Why?
Because the folks at Hyperion, in a stroke of genius, got none other
than Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau himself to recite the Narrator's part.
Not only that, DFD reads the poems of Mueller's cycle that Schubert
omitted. I am not a native German speaker -- not a German speaker at
all, in fact -- but I have no hesitation in saying that anyone who isn't
moved by DFD's "performance" of these poems is just not listening. As
read by DFD, these poems are almost as eloquent as the songs themselves;
there is no question that DFD has read them intelligently and is able
to convey Mueller's sounds and rhythms. It's fantastic.
So finally, six months since I've had the Bostridge disc, it dawned on
me: combine them! I burned a disc that combines DFD's narrations with
his lieder disc, in the same order as the Bostridge disc -- which in
itself puts the missing poems in the intended order. Now all is right:
DFD's singing, accompanied by his readings of the poems. *This* is the
Muellerin that I'll be listening to from now on.
What's next for my Die schoene Muellerin obsession? I was so impressed
by Brigitte Fassbaender's recording of Winterreise, that I must hear her
in Muellerin. It's on DG; haven't been able to find it so far, but I
have high hopes that it will pop up on eBay someday.
Any favorite recordings of Die schoene Muellerin out there?