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Franz Schubert: Die schöne Müllerin, D. 795
Samuel Hasselhorn (baritone), Ammiel Bushakevitz (piano)
Recording: Berlin, Germany (November 2022) – 68’31
harmonia mundi HMM902720 (Distributed by [Integral]) – Booklet in English, French and German

Although we live in very different worlds, Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin (The Miller’s Beautiful Daughter), continues to move generations of music lovers with its simple tale of a countryside romance. Composed long before TikTok and The Bachelorette offered new avenues to courtship, the lyrics of this simple song cycle tell a story of youthful lightheartedness, falling in love and losing love. The engaging poetry was written by Wilhelm Müller, a poet most known, not as a lovesick swain, but as the father of the great philologist and Sanskrit translator, Friedrich Max Müller. But it is the lyrical music of Schubert’s setting that makes this an enduring favorite of the small concert stage. Two hundred years after the cycle’s composition, Samuel Hasselhorn, baritone, and Ammiel Bushakevitz, piano, make this a fresh retelling of love glimpsed, possessed and lost. We can expect many more Schubert collections to be published in this decade as we march to the composer’s premature death date in 1828, but few will offer such a sensitive blend of artistry and insight Hasselhorn brings to his roles as the Wanderer and the Brook. He has considerable experience in the German vocal repertoire, including opera (which is not necessarily a smooth pathway to the much smaller‑scale Lieder). As accompanist, Bushakevitz’s playing is suave and sophisticated in the best sense. In this album, the pair prove themselves a dream team of talent, ideal for the celebration of Schubert song.

The album begins brightly with a solid performance of what is probably the most recognizable of the 20 songs, “The Wanderer”. Here, Hasselhorn’s voice is bold and self‑confident, conveys the energy of youth while introducing one of the narrators of the cycle, the Brook, expanded upon in the second song. Schubert’s musical impressions of a babbling brook may seem a little obvious—even trite—to modern ears, but there is no denying it captures the freshness of young, light hearts and a sense of the verdure of early Spring. The Brook seems to lead the Wanderer to the mill where he happily earns his way in the world. Here, Hasselhorn’s voice eases from jubilant to satisfied, with tender gratitude to the little Brook for showing him the way. Soon, however, a shadow falls on this rustic scene, though the Wanderer sees at first only sunshine and delight in the form of the beautiful miller’s daughter.

The Wanderer is bewitched by the lovely Fräulein, whose eyes outshine the cornflowers in the fields, a reflection which becomes a lullaby in gentle triplets. Bushakevitz’s playing is delightful and appropriately restrained as the soloist offers an exceptional variety of nuances as he loses his heart to the flirtatious girl in these early verses. However, the tale takes a dark turn with the entrance of a hunter who diverts her attention with his daring personality and dangerous occupation. Schubert etches each character individually in this miniature drama without resorting to inflexible leitmotifs. As tensions build, singer and pianist engage in a melodic ebb and flow to mirror the modulations of the babbling Brook.

By the tenth song, the wanderer’s sighs have melted into a “Tränenregen”, an understated shower of tears leading to an almost obsessive fixation in “Mein!”. The piano reflects and seems to nourish the lover’s neurotic longing, and in the next song, “Pause”, fairly imitates the ominous strumming of a lute mentioned in the lyrics. Hasselhorn navigates the shifts in mood to jealousy, even to desperation, in nuanced phrases of pure beauty through the final verses. Soon, the Wanderer’s love is as desiccated as the withered flowers in his hand or laid upon a grave.

Die schöne Müllerin is certainly one of the most beloved song cycles in any language, but it depends on ever‑new performances to stay vital and relevant to generations of admirers. The Hasselhorn-Bushakevitz edition is one of those insightful performances, pointing out the ambiguities and lifting up the joys and sorrows that are the legacy of human life.

Linda Holt




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