Canadian bass-baritone Gerald Finley and long-time collaborator Julius Drake have now revealed the final panel in their Schubert triptych for Hyperion, having already recorded highly lauded accounts of Winterreise and Schwanengesang. Theirs is a quietly compelling account of the young miller’s journey from innocence through aspiring love to heartbreak and death, accompanied by the constancy of the mill’s brook.
This journey, often in the hands of tenors, takes on at the most immediate level a narrative, here-and-now quality. Amongst a multitude of recordings, consider the disarming clarity of Josef Protschka accompanied by Helmut Deutsch or the communicative suppleness of Ian Bostridge accompanied by Graham Johnson. Baritones are arguably predisposed to a more existential, less chronological exploration of Schubert’s masterly cycle. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Gerald Moore notably balance both approaches in their classic 1972 recording.
With great subtlety and finesse, Finley and Drake inexorably draw the listener into the miller’s successive states of mind: the carefree wanderer, the tentative suitor, the dreamy romantic, the ecstatic then jealous lover, and finally, the broken man.
In tracing this emotional arc, Finley carefully husbands his vocal resources, deftly colouring the early songs, bringing a dreamlike quality to Morgengruss and particularly beauteous tone to Pause. Drake is also alert to every nuance of text, delivering expertly judged pacing, as the heart-stopping pauses in Trockne Blumen or the artful pointing of phrases in Die liebe Farbe.
In the face of such a fine achievement, my only caveat is with the final song, where the tempo and tone focus on summoning up a scene of desolation rather than projecting the message of consolation offered by the brook. That quibble aside, here is a distinguished Die schöne Müllerin whose insights are as abundant as its delights.