Schubert's Die schöne Müllerin: the pub edition!

This Müllerin is destined to captivate and amuse

Schubert's Die schöne Müllerin: the pub edition!

This is a bold re-imagining of Schubert's classic song-cycle. Three singles were released prior to full publication: “Des Baches Wiegenlied” on November 3rd, “Das Wandern” on the 10th, and “Am Feierabend” on November 17.

Performing with the Alehouse Boys (aka Barokksolistene directed from the violin by Bjarte Elke) on the Rubicon label, this is infectious stuff, playful and almost folky. Listen to the first song, “Das Wandern”:

Never have I heard a clearer link between the opening song and “Mein!” incidentally, than in this performance. The violin writing in "Mein!" almost floats towards bluegrass ...

Schubert often accompanied his songs on the guitar, so this is not without precedent. And guitars give “Pause” an extra resonance (“Meine Laute hab' ich gehängt an die Wand” sings Guthrie: I've hung my lute on the wall). There are new sonorities galore (“Halt!” being a case in point). Taking his arrangement to social gathering points such as Balham Bowls Club for the London launch, for example, means the piece connects anew while losing little of the poignancy of its story.

Guthrie studied for a PhD at York University, focusing on ornamentation in Schubert Lieder. As he says:

During this time, my eyes and ears were opened to the idea that Schubert - like composers of earlier music - expected his singers to ornament and adapt his music according to the audience. This genuine engagement with the listener demands spontaneity and invention.

There is real intimacy here as well (try ”Die Neugierige“). Perhaps “Ungeduld” could have a touch more excitement and joy at ”Dein ist mein Herz” (but nevertheless there is plenty to enjoy). When it comes to “Trânenregen,” the raining tears are mirrored in pizzicato strings and guitar. Guthrie is the perfect narrator - it really feels like he is telling a story, and as such this, it feels like an hour-long story-telling. The urgency of “Die böse Farbe” (The Hated Colour) is infectious.

The proof in the pudding of this working is the effect the final song, “Des Baches Wiegenlied,” has on the listener, and in its approach, “Der Müller und der Bach”. In the former, Guthrie offers a lullaby. In the latter, it is guitar that offers the repeated gesture over which the protagonist says goodbye and good-night. There are sadder and more cosmic goodbyes (Fischer-Dieskau and, oh my word, Hotter with Rauchesisen - good luck coming back from that one), but Guthrie and his players deliver. This is a plateau of Schubertian loveliness garlanded, as the song proceeds, with gossamer violin arpeggios.

Barokksolistene comprises director Bjarte Eike (violin), Miloš Valent (violin); Per Buhre, viola; Judith-Maria Blomsterberg (cello and language coach), Johannes Lundberg (double-bass), plus Runar Kjeldberg and Fredrik Bock on 19th-century guitars. They are a crack group - if you need proof head over to the bustling sonorities of “Eiifersucht und Stolz” (Jealousy and Pride, the 15th song). They can create otherwordly sounds, too - the almost Schoenbergan inner light of “Die liebe Farbe” (The Favourite Colour) is remarkable.

Even the booklet is a gem, illustrated by a series of utterly delightful line drawings.

Guthrie is an opera director as well as singer. His production of Schubert's Winterreise (with puppet) has been around for nearly two decades. Recorded in both Gothenburg, Sweden, and in Leamington Spa, this Müllerin is destined to captivate and amuse.

This is the first of three projects: Winterreise will follow in 2027, and Schwanengesang in 2028.

You can buy this disc from Amazon at this link.