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Format: Audio CD
Young German lyrical tenor Daniel Behle (born 1976) recorded this delectable song cycle of Franz Peter Schubert in 2009-2010.
Son of the mezzo-soprano Renate Behle, his foremost voice teacher is his mother, apart from studying trombone and composition at conservatory. To-date, Behle has already established himself as the rising lyrical German tenor of this generation with substantial discography to boot.
What makes one wary of reviews for young musicians applies with full rigour to reviews of Behle. I was initially oblivious of this album, since this came out in the same year when Jonas Kaufmann and Helmut Deutsch’s same cycle was released. In more ways than one, this cycle offers interesting comparisons with, inter alia, cycles by other current well-known tenors, of which, however, I will leave to aficionados.
As a student of the trombone, one can hear a hint of the trombone’s sound in Behle’s timbre, just as the horn player Fritz Wunderlich had the sound of the French horn. Daniel Behle’s voice is not a velvety instrument, but it does not lack warmth and versatility. It does not own the baritonal quality of Jonas Kaufmann, and the way young Behle deploys his instrument is more limpid than Kaufmann. While generally speaking his technique is secure and well supported, he does at times, especially in the high register, push his voice. This is more evident in the concluding piece of this recording, the rarely heard “Auf den Strom”, as if, at times, the singer is competing with the solo horn. In the song cycle itself, the singing of Behle is not short of being exemplary. I would not, as others do, dwell on the interpretational aspects of Behle, since there are numerous ways of presenting a delectable song cycle as Die Schone Mullerin. Suffice to say that I find this young tenor’s approach utterly unpretentious, with high musical and scriptural integrity seldom found in the more ‘illustrious’ non-native interpretors.
From the musical perspective, Daniel Behle scores high marks while his accompanist slightly less so, hence the outcome of this partnership is not such that one would recommend without reservation. I must stress that the most outstanding collaboration in current years’ recordings - the one between Matthias Goerne and Christophe Eschenbach, would inevitably be the benchmark. This is not to say that Norwegian born pianist Sveinung Bjelland isn’t doing a good job. It is just at at some critical moments, the slightly pedestrian approach to the accompaniment simply failed to carry the music with the singer, and in lieder, this aspect can be glaring.
Behle’s Mullerin cycle has a definite edge over the gruffier sounding colleagues. The voice is unmistakably youthful, with a marked tinge of recklessness underneath a mellifluous surface. The singing is characterful, with a heady directness of delivery that befits a young protagonist, and while Behle does not has the same recklessly passionate abandon of Jonas Kaufmann, his honesty and spontaneity are apparent.
Stylistically, the sparing use of pedal (by the pianist) and of vibrato (by the singer) results in an authentic Schubert (and lieder) sound. Behle seldom ‘characterises’ the parties in the songs, and carries the strophic songs through with musical integrity more on top of interpretive variation. Nor does he mark out the ‘master’ from the ‘apprentice’ in "Am Feierabend", and at the conclusion of “Tränenregen” (No. 10), the phrase “es kommt ein Regen, ade, ich geh’ nach Haus” is sung by Behle without the coquettishness to contrast to the illusory imaginings of the lovestruck protagonist. While Schubert ends this song in the minor to reinforce this contrast, Aksel Schiøtz and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in their recordings (both with Gerald Moore) supply the mocking, coquettish tone that probably makes Schubert’s (and poet Wilhelm Müller’s) point. But I must add that such ‘omissions’ do appear to be deliberate on the part of the performers rather than an oversight. Afterall, it makes cogent artistic sense when a singer/pianist group decides to do a song cycle in their own individual manner.
As a bonus the Behle/Bjelland disc offers one of Schubert’s autumnal songs, poet Ludwig Rellstab’s “Auf den Strom” (On the River), scored for voice, piano, and horn. This work prefigures Schubert’s more familiar, and apparently final, composition, Der Hirt auf dem Felsen, scored for soprano voice, piano, and clarinet. These compositions extend the voice-plus-piano song form to that of voice-plus-chamber-group. One of Schubert's most striking extended songs, this performance features the Dutch hornist Ab Koster.
If you prefer your Schubert Lieder to be more emotionally restrained and with only slight strophic distinctions, and if you want to add the rarely heard but rewarding "Auf den Strom" to your collection, then the Daniel Behle and Sveinung Bjelland disc is a good one to have.