The best performances of Die Schöne Mullerin demand three things: a singer with an instinct for drama, a pianist who hears the world that Schubert makes for his young Miller through his fingers and, above all, a partnership in which singer and pianist are as one. Gerald Finley has the measure of his hero from ‘Halt’, the third song in the cycle. His bright heroic tone, the febrile sense of excitement as he follows the brook to the mill hints at the mind that is already loose on its hinges. And how well he characterises the miller’s careless daughter. By the time that Finley reaches ‘Trockne Blumen’ we, as much as the young man, are lost. What comfort is there in the return of Spring in the final stanza?
Julius Drake never falters as the piano sings its dirge for the apprentice miller. Those almost imperceptible slides between major and minor that run through the whole cycle are exemplary. And there’s no dawdling with the intention of raising the emotional temperature. Significantly, we are never allowed to forget that the piano part is the brook, that other principal character in this tragedy.
Drake and Finley are hand in voice throughout the cycle, yet always understanding that either partner may sing their own song. The four-note lute melody in the piano part in ‘Pause’ hinting at the idea of a serenade becomes ever more unsettling, and when Finley lightens his tone, hoping for the best, the pianist knows better. A magnificent recording.