David Greco and Erin Helyard’s back to basics survey of Schubert’s song cycles continues with the same freshness and vitality that characterised the pair’s ear-opening Winterreise last year. The emphasis again is on historically-informed practice, Greco’s approach remaining essentially the same as before, Helyard exchanging the fortepiano employed in Winterreise for a modern Paul McNulty piano built in 2015 and modelled on an Anton Graf instrument from two centuries earlier when Schubert was in his ascendancy.
The combined effect is noticeable from the off, Greco and Helyard launching into Das Wandern with a becomingly bright and ardent buoyancy. Largely informed by an edition of the cycle published in 1830, two years after Schubert’s death – one that included embellishments subtly foregrounding the use of portamento, rubato and lightly accented ornamentation by the composer’s early baritone champion, Johann Michael Vogl – Greco’s reading of Die Schöne Müllerin is more variegated than on the unrelenting bleakness of Winterreise. Satisfyingly so as the cycle moves from pastoral idyll and innocent infatuation to despairing obsession and forlorn suicide.
Vogl is not the only influence on Greco’s performance, the young Australian recently involved in interrogating near-contemporary approaches to singing Schubert for his Ph.D (supervised by Helyard) at Melbourne University that embraced Alessandro Moreschi (the last and only castrato to make solo recordings) alongside Australia’s prima donna assoluta Nellie Melba. What results is an attempt to strip away the inherited accretions of modern interpretation to produce a more authentic experience that Schubert himself would have recognised.
An exercise in educated guesswork it may be, and although Greco came to attention singing music of an earlier age he brings an instinctive incisiveness to the more complex emotions of the Romantic era. His journey through Die Schöne Müllerin is marked by an intelligence and nuance that underpins a direct and affecting engagement with the heightened emotions of Heinrich Müller’s text.
Greco’s use of rubato is always adroit, tellingly so in the sylvan intoxication of Wohin?, his use of portamento well-judged throughout, his equally judicious employment of legato expressively to the fore in Trockne Blumen, the cycle’s intimate strophic songs are highlighted by apt ornamentations deftly inking in the mounting sense of obsessive desperateness.
For Schubert aficionados, there’s something to be found in Greco’s performance of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s treatment of text, of Peter Mattei’s feeling for its finely-wrought drama and of Gerard Souzay’s rounded way with Schubert’s lithe, achingly liquid musical lines. It’s an amalgam that allows Greco to stamp his own particular and pleasing mark on a familiar work.
In a nod to 19th-century practice, Schubert’s G Flat Minor Impromptu No 3 is inserted mid-way through after Pause to provide the sirenic, ever-present brook beside which the young traveller emotes with its own de facto soliloquy. It’s a wholly agreeable punctuation mark in an altogether eloquent reading.
Recorded in the Eugene Goossens Hall of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Ultimo Centre in Sydney, Greco and Helyard’s characterful performances are securely framed and positioned. Helyard’s extensive notes are an erudite and enlightening bonus.
Work: Die Schöne Müllerin
Performers: David Greco bar, Erin Helyard p
Label: ABC Classic ABC4818741