Posted by: mcmillanstudio | January 14, 2020

Schubert, Die Schöne Müllerin: Kevin McMillan and Warren Jones on Dorian. DOR-90162, 1993

Maybe its society’s increasing awareness and empathy to mental health; or maybe the recent (Christmas day 2019) death of Peter Schreier, or maybe the recording’s clarity of sound and purity of interpretation, but….I might have found my new favorite recording of Schubert’s Die Schöne Müllerin.

The Peter Schreier/Konrad Ragossnig (Guitar) recording of Schubert’s great song cycle (Spotify link) was for many years my favorite recording. (Of course, it wouldn’t be that I sang the cycle a couple of times myself with a guitarist)  Anyway, the recording itself provides overall immediacy of sound presence, clarity of Mr. Schreier’s diction and the deft touch of Mr. Ragossnig.  Schubert’s approved guitar transcription by J. Duarte seems to provide the intimacy appropriate for Wilhelm Müller’s poems detailing a young man’s descent from carefree joy to suicide.

Kevin McMillan’s and Warren Jones’ recording captures the intimacy of the tenor/guitar transcription with a light baritone timbre and a crystalline piano touch.  McMillan’s voice is focused, light and the vowels open and expressive and fully colored with meaning.  Jones’ piano is alternatively crisp and mellow (as the meaning demands.  The two collaborators consistently play off each other and take on the “character roles” convincingly.

Even more important, this performance highlights the inner life of the miller’s apprentice.  Schubert’s settings precede the awareness of what we now know as psychopathology.  Yet in so many ways, Schubert clearly intuited the young man’s declining mental health.  As the cycle proceeds the major/minor shifts increase within individual songs, keys between songs are more remote, and eventually there develops a cognitive dissonance between the words and musical modality indicating increasing emotional imbalance.  McMillan’s voice subtly adds moments of darkness moving from a “tenor-like” brightness to a darker disquieting timbre.  And Jones’ touch becomes increasingly agitated moving from legato (on the finger pad) to almost frenetic (on the fingertips).

A few examples to listen for…. The first song in the set, Das Wandern, a five verse strophic song is bright, joyous, and filled with hope.  The performers bring color,  brilliance and individual musical meaning to each verse.  In Der Neugerige, anxiety begins to creep in.  According to these performers, our protagonist never quite recovers his former mental health–accept for one song, Mein!, which stands out as an appropriate exception to the increasing imbalance.  The songs,  become either overly morose or overly frenetic, creating a sense of manic-depressive syndrome in our apprentice.  A big part of that is the tempi chosen by McMillan and Jones.  This song cycle is a challenge to find the right tempos and their tempos seem to be a big part of their expressive toolbox.  Then we arrive at the song, Trockne Blume.  This song is a dirge toward death and the performers recognize this in heartbreaking fashion with darker timbres and almost imperceptible piano chords only broken by a hollow mocking piano echo.  Even the, supposed, “happier” B section in major builds to the manic equivalent of “When I’m dead, she’ll regret it!!!!” moment.”  And then, of course, descends into a depressive and hopeless parody of the manic moment.  Beautiful…  I won’t spoil the ending.

When I was younger, I took the story too lightly and didn’t appreciate Schubert’s pre-Freudian musical psycho-analysis.  This recording reminds me that at times Schubert is far deeper than we give him credit for.  Schubert fills even the simple basic story of Die Schöne Müllerin with depth, anxiety, hope, and ultimate sadness.  People haven’t changed.  This work is as fresh as the day it was first performed.  This is not just beautiful.  This is dark and disturbing to hear in this day and age. – Brian Cockburn

 

This recording is available on:

https://sites.lib.jmu.edu/cacophony/2020/01/14/schubert-die-schone-mullerin-kevin-mcmillan-and-warren-jones-on-dorian-dor-90162-1993/


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