United Kingdom Schubert, Mauro Peter (tenor), Helmut Deutsch (piano), Wigmore Hall, London 28.1 2014 (RB)
Schubert – Die schöne Müllerin D795 (1823)
Die schöne Müllerin is the first of Schubert’s three great song cycles and on the surface it is a much brighter piece with a more straightforward narrative than the two late cycles. While it covers the full range of human emotions, including feelings of dejection, jealousy and unhappiness, it does not mine the very painful feelings we hear in Winterreise or the Heine songs in Schwanengesang. I have a slight preference for the tenor voice in Die schöne Müllerin and baritone in the two later song cycles, although there are of course very fine exponents of all three cycles right across the vocal range. Helmut Deutsch is one of the world’s foremost accompanists and needs no introduction but Mauro Peter was unknown to me. He made his debut with Deutsch singing Die schöne Müllerin at the Schwarzenburg Schubertiade at the end of 2012 and has since begun to forge an international career both in the opera house and concert platform. He has a bright, clear, ringing voice, is supremely lyrical and musical and has excellent intonation and diction. His technique is superb and he made Schubert’s wonderful collection seem entirely effortless.
There was a carefree abandon in the opening collection of songs with Deutsch giving us beautifully realised and picturesque impressions of churning mill wheels and babbling streams. Peter brought a sunny optimism to Das Wandern while in Wohin he navigated Schubert’s harmonic progressions in a supremely lyrical way and with a wonderful evenness of tone. Peter brought a sense of youthful expectation to Halt! – he sang “Und die Sonne, wie helle/Vom Himmel sie scheint!” in a completely unbounded way, perfectly capturing the ardour and excitement of young love. Danksagung an den Bach was tender and reflective while both performers did a splendid job in bringing out the drama and impetuosity of Am Feierabend. Deutsch gave a masterclass in how to make relatively simple phrases sound exquisite in the opening bars of Der Neugierige while Peter gave us a gorgeous change of tone colour in the third stanza and wrung every ounce of emotion from “Sag’, Bächlein, liebt sie micht?”
The exceptionally high quality of the music making continued through the central collection of songs. Ungeduld was full of breathless impatience while the evocative scenes in the opening stanzas of Morgengruß were brought vividly to life. Tränenregen is the only song in the collection where the young miller and the maid are together: Peter and Deutsch gave it a fairy tale opening while the fatal barb in the final stanza where the maid rejects the youth’s advances had a biting quality. There is a manic and delusional quality to Mein! – the young miller is head over heels with love and assumes the young maid is his after she has just rejected him – Deutsch brought out the exuberance of the piano part while Peter really soared through “Die geliebte Müllerin ist mein!/ Mein!” in an unbridled way. Mit dem grünen Lautenbande had a light, coquettish charm while Der Jäger was rhythmically tight with Peter’s enunciation very clear.
The final songs of the set get increasingly darker and more melancholic as the reality of the situation begins to sink in. In Eifersucht und Stolz Peter managed to project the manic and obsessional quality of the consuming jealousy while Deutsch created just the right atmosphere with the whirling piano figurations. Peter achieved a lovely soft sheen in Die liebe Farbe and the vocal lines were executed with a silky evenness of tone. There was a sense of wistful dejection at the start of Trockne Blumen while the last stanza was a real cry to gird oneself and rise up against the adversities of life. Der Müller und der Bach is one of the most beautiful songs ever written and it here received a ravishing performance – the final stanza with its gorgeous modulations was absolutely magical. In the final lullaby Peter and Deutsch captured the consoling and soothing nature of the music while at the same time creating just the right mixture of colours to suggest that something more sinister and cruel may be going on beneath the surface.
At the end of the concert, Deutsch rather gallantly stood at the side of the stage to give his young protégé the lion’s share of the applause but I am sure a large part of this interpretation is down to him. Peter has a fabulous voice and he is clearly a star of the future.