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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully sung but missing the last degree of fantasy, 15 Feb 2010
This review is from: Schubert: Die schöne Müllerin (Audio CD)
My touchstones for this wonderful song cycle have always been the recorded performances of Aksel Schiøtz accompanied by Gerald Moore - an incomparable, vintage account, but obviously in hissy, mono 1945 sound - the delectable sibling team of Ian and Jennifer Partridge in a speedy, thistledown-light 1973 CfP disc and, in pure vocal terms, Fritz Wunderlich's 1966 version which is unfortunately compromised by stodgy, unimaginative pianism. All three of these tenors are demonstrably lighter and brighter than Kaufmann and thus capable of injecting more fantasy into the quieter, higher passages; Kaufmann, with his baritonal timbre must work far harder to achieve a delicacy and poignancy which come more easily to his tenor forebears. He also has to work harder to fine down his big sound and achieve intimacy in the big, resonant acoustic given to him by Decca; at times, especially in the earlier, exuberant or declamatory songs he seems a little crude alongside the poise of, say, Schiøtz. He does not really have the right vocal "face" for this music but does wonders with the voice he has, even if it is not as intrinsically beautiful as others.

One thing is certain: Helmut Deutsch draws upon his vast experience to provide some of the most fluid, fluent and subtle acccompaniment we have heard for years in this deceptively simple music; he is alive to every nuance of phrasing and dynamics and matches his singer with unfailing sensitivity.

My first listening of this disc prompted an odd sensation of dejà-vu. I do not mean that necessarily as a criticism, but Kaufmann's vocal characteristics are so individual that I knew how he would sound in this music before I heard it: the husky, slightly "windy" Vickers-style production of his mezza-voce, the long breath, the baritonal heft the perfect German diction, are all very welcome - but I am sometimes more aware of listening to Kaufmann than I am to Schubert, if you follow me; some effects sound a little calculated compared with the simplicity these folk-songs require. He also sounds decidedly ill-at-ease in the near Sprechstimme of "Die Jäger", which at this speed requires a fleetness beyond him. I think if I did not have an attachment to the older recordings mentioned above, this could be a first choice as long as you favour his style, but I cannot in all honesty say that I find Kaufmann's larger scale delivery as moving or affecting as his predecessors. It is still a lovely performance by perhaps the best tenor before the public today and conforms to my (and, according to the liner notes, Kaufmann's) conviction that this cycle is far better delivered by a tenor than a baritone. Who could believe that one of the reasons why Kaufmann chose to record it was that he is already forty and wanted to capture his interpretation while his voice still encompassed youthful ardour? He certainly does that and, in addition, manages a welcome degree of yearning melancholy. His fans will not be disappointed.

PS: What marketing genius at Decca sanctioned the tacky cover photo?
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Showing 1-10 of 11 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 23 Oct 2010 16:57:17 BDT
Last edited by the author on 23 Oct 2010 18:43:31 BDT
Stephen Kass says:
Hi Ralph! Thanks for the good review. I agree with you on almost all points but have, of course some other touchstones
for this cycle, which I have sung myself for a select audience. Güra is one of them but so is a relatively unknown German tenor, Josef Proschka as well as Pregardien (with Staier) and Bostridge. Gerhaher´s Müllerin was recorded quite a few years ago and I believe that he can do better now. Wunderlich has the most beautiful voice but in my opinion doesn´t really interpret these songs enough and, as you say had a very mediocre pianist. It was this pianist who gave Wunderlich lessons in Lied-singing in Stuttgart. A special kind of naivity is necessary for these apparently simple songs but they are not folk-songs, as you write. I assume that you meant that they have a folk-song like character. They may sound simple but this is deceptive. German romanticism often has this seemingly "innocent" quality and this "simplicity" and directness is what makes Schubert so moving - not only in his Lieder. A light tenor voice brings out this quality best in my opinion. But all credit to Kaufmann. Who would have thought listening to his Wagner or Fidelio aria that he could hold back his voice so effectively. His diction is excellent too. Well done Mr. Kaufmann! But ultimately a lighter voice which doesn´t have to specially turn down its power is better suited for these songs. One example: In "Ungeduld" he "throttles" his voice on the high note (an "A" I think) on the word "mein". Probably this was necessary in order to not sound too operatic or quite simply to destroy the integrity of this Lied by being too loud. The result is that the impatience and ardour gets a bit lost (actually the "Müllerin" is far from being "his"). A lighter voice can really let go on this note and this conveys his exaltation and passion much more. Kaufmann can do other things so much better and in my opinion should concentrate on these. There are quite a few good Lied-singers around these days but Kaufmann is singular and unique in other kinds of music. That is where we really need him. Greetings

In reply to an earlier post on 23 Oct 2010 17:19:31 BDT
Ralph Moore says:
Yes; I mean that the music often has a deceptively simplistic, folk-song character although the words are pregnant with darker undertones (mixed metaphor?). As we have many times discussed, I am not a great fan of the very light tenor and am indeed familiar with all those you mention, but paradoxically Kaufmann's voice really is a little too heavy to encompass some of the effects Schubert requires.

In reply to an earlier post on 24 Oct 2010 09:40:27 BDT
Last edited by the author on 24 Oct 2010 09:42:36 BDT
Stephen Kass says:
Good morning Ralph! I have just listened to excerpts from the Partridge (brother and sister) recording. I didn´t even know that this existed but from what I have just heard it is indeeed very good. A lovely, fresh, young voice and unaffected singing. Good German pronunciation too.Thanks for the tip. Unfortuately it seems to be rare and is therefore pretty expensive.

In reply to an earlier post on 24 Oct 2010 10:27:18 BDT
[Deleted by the author on 24 Oct 2010 21:49:36 BDT]

Posted on 29 Mar 2013 12:56:00 GMT
Last edited by the author on 29 Mar 2013 13:33:39 GMT
david says:
Hi Mr Moore,
Having purchased then rejected a couple of Herr Kaufmann's aria discs, simply because I found his voice unattractive and wooden in delivery, I have not made the same mistake again with this lieder disc. I am also going to dismiss Wunderlich out of hand too, for his vocal mannerisms, operetta style and hurried shallowness. Unfortunately there isn't a great deal of "wunderlich" or the adolescent feel to this performance, though his voice can appropriately soar akin to Mario Lanza of course!
Of course, common sense, always in short supply, suggests that a dramatic tenor like Kaufmann is too heavy for this least Jon Vickers reserved his vocal powers to the Winterreise where his heft was more suited. And if I am not mistaken so did Waechter and Hotter. Again, Marti Talvela, the Finnish bass, recorded a stunning Winterreise. But neither of these performances are satisfactory overall because of slow tempi or sheer lack of vocal agility where a grand opera voice attempts the intimate lieder form. I think the female voice is far more successful at crossing this bridge...there are innumerable examples.
I am listening again, comparatively, to my few recordings of the Mullerin after giving Schubert Lieder a long rest. One spur for this, is to place Fischer Dieskau into some sort of context following his passing last year. So far I have listened to Krenn and this the lightest of the light voiced versions? However it does have its moments! The recorded sound is also ideal I think.
A beautifully rounded performance by Patzak (with Raucheisen from 1943) seems to impart so much meaning and character without sacrificing the vocal line and he can also manage incredibly smooth legato singing He seems to have it all - including that rare thing charisma, it would have been wonderful to listen and see him live, that would be a journey - he has really impressed me despite the vintage sound. One thing about Patzak is the strength of his voice across the full range and it emanates from his body and throat and not too much from the head as with Krenn (and with less success, Ian Partridge, which is almost whining, but not as shrill as Schreier!) so the drama in the cycle is completely captured. But he can also sing his top notes quietly too and not just under the breath as many big tenors do. A wonderful voice. If this is representative of pre-war lieder singing in Germany, then it was really a glorious tradition that inspired the young Fischer Dieskau.

One feels in retrospect, this is what Fischer Dieskau endeavoured to achieve, in his recording with
Moore, but the effect now feels odd and slightly artificial, the voice is changing too much from song to song. Not his best cycle.

For a baritone version, I love Herman Prey. The voice is warm, even and infinitely flexible. He is never really challenged by the passages which lie in the high register of his voice while he can easily get down to the lowest notes. He is always singing well within his powers, with plenty in reserve, a sacred rule of all lieder singing, and the total effect is completely natural alllowing both the music to flow and the composer's voice to be heard. Wonderful...and I have it on DVD too!
So Herr Kaufmann, as with the three tenors, for you are of that brand, no thank you!

In reply to an earlier post on 29 Mar 2013 14:03:55 GMT
Ralph Moore says:
David, your tastes are very much your own and even seem to me somewhat eccentric in that you do not like Wunderlich, but I certainly find myself responding positively to many of your observations. I, on the other hand, have never much warmed to Prey's idiosyncratic sound with its hint of bleat and am no D-F-D fan, as you already know by now. I do not hear any whining in Partridge's voice, just a very light, falsetto-weighted tone without Schreier's constriction.

I have reviewed that Patzak recital and like it:
Schubert Recordings, The (Patzak, Klien, Raucheisen)

Here another lower-voiced recording I like with which you may already be familiar (I have reviewed it):
Die Schone Mullerin D. 795 (Hynninen/Gothoni)

In reply to an earlier post on 29 Mar 2013 16:26:32 GMT
david says:
Yes it is the falsetto style singing that I find annoying. The benefit of a bigger voice is that, if it is subject to shading and delicate phrasing plus the ability to sing clearly and quietly, then the flasetto is completely unnecessary. As a fine Mozart singer on paper at least one would think Wunderlich would have it all, but he simply does not involve me emotionally. Fischere-Dieskau sings well but it is artful and distributed in a peculiar voices for individual songs. I would like to listen next to Padmore as another Mozartian whether he can mine the songs for extra meaning. As for Patzak, I wonder whether he maintained his successful recital career as his voice got heavier in the 1950s? Well Mr Moore, I think Prey's long and successful career, and the particular affection and esteem he is held in Germany, which is the home of the Lied, rather speaks for itself.

In reply to an earlier post on 29 Mar 2013 17:22:53 GMT
Ralph Moore says:
I agree with you regarding falsetto bias in a voice which is why I cannot abide Mark Padmore, Bostridge and the whole company of "ever-so-British" tenors lauded today. I am all for bigger, properly registered and resonated tenors of the kind who have a complete range of sound to offer instead of the throaty, narrow band of tone currently admired. I did not say Prey was a poor singer or even that I actively dislike him - just that he is not a favourite. I would cite Matthias Goerne as typical of a "Germanic" vocal production which I find wholly unattractive, worlds removed from the Schlusnus voice type I admire - he setting, for me, the gold standard in Schubert interpretation.

In reply to an earlier post on 29 Mar 2013 18:12:46 GMT
david says:
I totally agree with your views concerning about Goerne (a retrograde step, its emulating a pre-F-Dieskau style of singing, but in the worst possible aspects, no heart, warmth or reaching out to the listener, that is what I fear mostly lacking in today's singer, the lack of a vital spark connecting to the audience, stage presence, charisma, whatever) and having read other reviews now of Padmore have rapidly discarded that inkling. Have read good stuff about Gura, can it be true? I must must must get hold of a Schlusnus recital on CD, and would be obliged if you could recommend one in Schubert or Schumann to start with. The one thing that is clear to me is that the Mullerin cycle is rather special....there is a magical enchanting atmosphere in the early songs which needs an earnest lyric tenor voice to pull them off...such as Krenn, but then as the mood darkens so must the voice and for me this is where the baritone versions can really succeed. I suppose, a heavier tenor voice such as Patzak, or the currently admired Kaufmann, can interpret both sides to this great cycle. For myself I do prefer lighter voices in lieder, both baritone and tenor.
PS a Schlusnus CD recommendation, would one have to go to 78s to get thd best of him?,would be greatly appreciated as there are so many remasterings out there.

In reply to an earlier post on 29 Mar 2013 19:53:24 GMT
Last edited by the author on 29 Mar 2013 23:03:18 GMT
Ralph Moore says:
This is just fine for Schlusnus, david:
Schubert - Lieder-Heinrich Schlusnus

Mine is the only review there.

Gura does nothing for me, likewise Pregardien. Like you, I like the Krenn type of German tenor.
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