Schubert, Die schöne Müllerin, M. Goerne, C. Eschenbach (Harmonia Mundi, 2009)
Schubert, Die schöne Müllerin, M. Goerne, E. Schneider (Decca, 2002)
S. Youens, Schubert, Müller, and Die schöne Müllerin (2006)
This cycle, about a wandering young man who takes a job at a mill along a stream somewhere, has been analyzed endlessly, by pianist Graham Johnson and scholar Susan Youens, among many others. Schubert took the poetry by Wilhelm Müller and, merely by omitting some poems, gave it a rather different spin. Most notably, Schubert's music makes the brook, which babbles to the young man and ultimately sings a lullaby to him as he drowns under its waves, into one of the major characters. From our era, with a more scientific understanding of mental illness, it is easy to imagine the narrator as a young adult who has started to manifest symptoms of schizophrenia, hearing voices, becoming paranoid and unpredictable, and gradually losing touch with reality. All through the course of these twenty songs, with an arresting narrative sense and exquisite German diction, Goerne seemed in dialogue with the sounds of the river coming forth from Eschenbach's piano. The language of music, which can suggest but not signify, is in this context a brilliant way to incarnate the "speech" that only the afflicted young man can understand. Goerne's tendency to lean under the lid of the piano even suggested the fantasy of climbing into a grave, which the narrator dreams about at one point, with the shape of the grand piano suggesting that of a coffin.
Eschenbach excels as an accompanist for someone like Goerne, always willing to follow his singer into any stray alley, accommodate every hesitation and strange tempo choice (helping make no. 6, "The Questioner," for example, into a truly odd, recitative-like experience), if not always with every detail of the more demanding songs quite in line. At the same time, Eschenbach brought out many elements in the accompaniment that were new to my ears, like the sense of bells tolling the end of the work day in no. 4 (Giving thanks to the brook) or the brook's rippling in no. 10 merging or overlapping with the idea of the beloved woman in the narrator's mind.
Anne Midgette, Goerne, Eschenbach offer searing, ravishing Schubert cycle (Washington Post, January 29)
Philip Kennicott, Matthias Goerne sings Schubert (PhilipKennicott.com, January 27)
Lawrence A. Johnson, Goerne and Eschenbach deliver memorable Schubert journey (Chicago Classical Review, January 20)
Matthias Goerne and Michelle DeYoung will be reunited this week, for performances of Hindemith's When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom'd with the National Symphony Orchestra (January 30 to February 1).