Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Aldeburgh Festival / Die schöne Müllerin @ Britten Studio, Snape

18 June 2011

Matthias Goerne never stands still – and I’m not referring to his platform manner. There is no compromise about his Die schöne Müllerin – not for him the gemütlichkeit of the typical interpretation, which finds us witnessing the jolly miller lad falling in love, faffing about with flowers and green ribbons and all that: Goerne goes unstintingly for the jugular, living each moment of the lurch from false hope, to despair and death, and he takes us with him on a journey far darker than that of Winterreise. Pierre-Laurent Aimard is with him every step of the way, playing with a fervour to equal the ardour of the singing.

Gerald Moore wrote that Schubert “did not have time in his short life to write in every little instruction, so we need to use our imaginations in terms of performance” – there could be no finer example of this than Goerne and Aimard’s highly dramatic, at times almost brutal interpretation; this is a Schöne Müllerin for our time, not harking back to some ideal of Biedermeier but forcing us to face an uncomfortable reality. Each new accompanist seems to inspire Goerne not only to new heights but to ask different questions both of the work and the audience: Aimard seems to me to have delved deeper than any other pianist in this respect.

‘Danksagung an den Bach’ and ‘Der Neugierige’ are often presented as charming ditties; here, in the former, the phrase ‘War es also gemeint?’ carried with it a weight of dread, and the final ‘furs Herze’ made you catch your breath. In the latter, the plea of ‘liebt sie mich’ was angular rather than sweet, with the grip of a drowning hand. I have never heard ‘Morgengruss’ taken so slowly, with such hymnal devotion or such attention to phrases like ‘Ihr blauen Morgensterne’ and rightly so, since this is a crucial moment in the poet’s enslavement.

Goerne clearly sets the centre of the cycle at the line ‘Soll es das Vorspiel neuer Lieder sein’ in ‘Pause’ which he sang as though it were the last question he would ever ask. It was hardly surprising that ‘Mit dem grünen Lautenbande‘ was so ferocious, the final lines sounding as though he would have liked to throttle the fickle little bitch with that blasted green ribbon. ‘Die Liebe Farbe’ was, characteristically, far more bitter than the ensuing song, ‘Mein Schatz hat’s Grün so gern‘ weighted with scorn, the steady beats of the piano keeping up an ironic refrain.

Amidst all the drama of their interpretation, Goerne and Aimard know when simplicity is most powerful, and we saw this to deeply moving effect in ‘Trockne Blumen’ – that bleak statement, ‘Ach, Tränen machen nicht maiengrün,. Machen tote Liebe nicht wieder blühn‘ is usually sung with heightened emotion, but here it was simply stated as a fact, accompanied by shattering little stabs in the piano and of course it was all the more heart-rending thereby.

In keeping with the rest, the final lullaby was taken mesmerizingly slowly, singer and pianist as one in the rapt contemplation of what this music had created. I am constantly amazed by the expansiveness and honeyed fluency of Goerne’s legato line, and here I was equally dazzled by Aimard’s ability to touch the keys so lingeringly that the music seemed an extension of the player.

Winterreise tomorrow (Sunday) and Schwanengesang and An die ferne Geliebte on Monday if you aren’t here already, get over to Aldeburgh now if you possibly can, for a Lieder partnership which you may hear only once or twice in a lifetime.

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