Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Sander & Sander: Die Schöne Müllerin

Die böse/liebe Farbe
Ah, spring. The drought of March is pierced to the root, and just as surely as folk long to go on pilgrimages, the thoughts of Lieder-lovers everywhere turn to Schubert's most famous wanderer. Or at least mine do... and the Heidelberger Frühling suggests I am not alone. A new recording of Die Schöne Müllerin was, then, a listening opportunity I embraced. The collaboration of a husband-wife team, baritone Klemens Sander and pianist Uta Sander, intrigued me, as promising a reservoir of trust and good communication practices on which to draw. K. Sander (whose credentials as an experienced Lieder interpreter are distinguished) sang with a pleasing, plangent baritone, and impeccable diction. Uta Sander offered lucid playing throughout.

And yet. And yet, I found myself disappointed, missing a sense of the cycle's arc. There was polish and precision; but there was surprisingly little variation of tempo or dynamics. From the piano, there was often a strangely forceful attack at the beginning of songs, which, in my view, contributed neither to musical flow or dramatic tension. The whole frequently felt sluggish, which was particularly odd in this cycle where the impetuous protagonist is either brooding or striding about, but never, surely, plodding. In the trailer for the album, K. Sander speaks with warmth (in German) about the rich emotional variety of the cycle, but that understanding was rarely communicated to the listener.

The early songs of the cycle felt as though they kept the same regular pace as the millstones, with the river's recklessness nowhere. The exuberance of "Ungeduld" felt somewhat labored. There was either a lack of subtlety in text-painting, or a subtlety that entirely passed me by. But I felt that "Morgengruss" bordered on the bombastic (Gottes hellen Morgen) and seemed inexplicably devoid of foreboding. I expected "Mein!" to be sparkling and bubbling with joy, or at least with frenetic energy. But it was here that I was, very gratifyingly, surprised for the first time, with the miller's questions "Is this all your sunshine? are these all your flowers?" sounding desperate, as if suddenly oppressed by a sense of their inadequacy.

"Pause" held melancholy, and very nice legato and piano singing, making me realize I'd been missing it. In subsequent songs, I kept waiting for more desperation to manifest itself. It was U. Sander's piano that contributed a very welcome, febrile anxiety in "Der Jäger," also bringing good color to "Die liebe Farbe." The miller, however, just sounded rather sad when saying that he is hunting death as a quarry. He's saying "bury me under the green turf" but sounding as though he might just need a friend to buy him a drink and talk him through the breakup. It is, of course, possible that such understatement was The Entire Point, which I have entirely missed. I welcomed the appropriately abrupt attack of the piano in "Die böse Farbe," and the slow, muted approach to "Trockne Blümen." The gentle resignation of "Des Baches Wiegenlied" might have felt like a necessary respite or welcome contrast to a more tempestuous interpretation, but as it was, I was left curiously unsatisfied. Curiously, because accomplished musicians interpreting Schubert is usually very satisfactory to me. If you, Gentle Readers, have favorite recordings of the Sanders (or of Die Schöne Müllerin, for that matter; I can always use another one or three), please let me know.


  1. There is a really good version of Müllerin by Oliemans and Martineau on youtube - check it out maybe, it is very fresh and natural :). And great German (I am German). And Martineau is awesome as always.

    1. That is lovely; thanks for the recommendation!


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