CD+DVD Reviews

SCHUBERT: Die Schone Mullerin – Barbara Hendricks, soprano/ Roland Pontinen, piano – Arte Verum

As expected, well sung. But is this cycle suited to the female voice?

Published on August 3, 2010

SCHUBERT: Die Schone Mullerin – Barbara Hendricks, soprano/ Roland Pontinen, piano – Arte Verum

SCHUBERT: Die Schone Mullerin – Barbara Hendricks, soprano/ Roland Pontinen, piano – Arte Verum 008 (+ DVD of interviews and Winterreise selections), CD: 61:24 *** [Distr. by Allegro]:

Hendricks fan that I am, I approached this disc with a little trepidation; I can’t think of one soprano offhand (though there are a few I am sure) that has tackled Schubert’s miller-girl obsessed wanderer. Hendricks admits in the notes that she avoided these pieces for years, even though her own love-affair with the composer goes back to her student days. And she admits that the idea of taking this work on was well-considered, as it is usually the property of tenors.

But she feels—wrongly in my opinion—that the musical ideas in the texts are so universal emotively that anyone could sing this music and find ways to project the composer’s intentions. I don’t know about that—while there can be no doubt that Hendricks brings a world of life experience—and Schubert experience—to these readings, there is something artificial about the performances that stem more from the fact of the incongruousness of a wandering woman in the age of Schubert. You simply can’t get away from the basic idea of Muller’s poetry, and in this instance it seems too much of a stretch to completely remove the sex-role element out of this equation the way we now commonly do with Handel and Mozart and others.

Hendricks, one of the greatest lieder singers in the world, brings her usual intelligence and thoughtfulness to this seminal piece the way we would expect of her, and Roland Pontinen must be considered equally responsible for the musicality of this recording. They do accomplish some good things, and Hendricks’s lovely phrasing and ability to project a clear textual element is outstanding. But emotionally I find it somewhat off-color and confusing.

The sound is very good, and there is an accompanying DVD of interviews with Hendricks and snippets of a performance of Winterreise, an upcoming recording. This piece responds better to a female voice, as Brigitte Fassbaender proved many years ago with her acclaimed version of the work, and I look forward to see what Hendricks does with it. As for now, I freely admit that many might disagree with this assessment of Die Schone Mullerin and they can be assured that musically Hendricks gives it her all—the question is rather does nature work against her in this case.

– Steven Ritter




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