Die schöne Müllerin by Franz Schubert
This afternoon concert comprised a single work, Schubert’s song-cycle Die schöne Müllerin, a sequence of twenty songs telling a tale of unrequited love. Both poetry and music have a folk-like simplicity which, in the fine performance we heard, nonetheless strikes right to the heart. For much of the time the piano imitates the churning of the mill-wheel or the flowing stream, the music almost always repeated for each verse of the lyric, while the voice has simple but exquisitely crafted melodies; yet in each song there is a slight irregularity, a pause, an unprepared switch from major to minor so that the music is suddenly darkened. In performance these reversals are easily over-played in the name of expression, yet they need, if anything, to be underplayed, the tiniest of gesture, a mere catch in the throat, whilst the slowly turning of fortune must also be sustained. This was the achievement of today’s performers, Roderick Williams, the Club’s President, and pianist Iain Burnside. With no interval or interruption, the piece was allowed to unfold at its own pace, the piano-accompaniments always steady, secure, undemonstrative, the turning marked by the merest inflections of tempo or tone. The final song, The Brook’s Lullaby was sung through each of the five verses in a plangent half-voice, yet beautifully projected; the piano’s strange lefthand chords were perfectly balanced each time round, and the pacing through-out steady, unvarying but always alive. There was a long, deep silence at the end.
Roderick Williams introduced the programme with an account of his journey in preparing this performance, affording a rare insight into the process of preparing a new work. This process may be followed by accessing his blog.