Schubert: The Fair Maid of the Mill / Glynn, Spence

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Christopher Glynn continues his series of Schubert in English releases with a new recording of ‘The Fair Maid of the Mill’ (Die schöne Müllerin) with...

Christopher Glynn continues his series of Schubert in English releases with a new recording of ‘The Fair Maid of the Mill’ (Die schöne Müllerin) with acclaimed Scottish tenor Nicky Spence. Set to a new translation by writer and director Jeremy Sams, Willhelm Müller’s direct and emotionally-charged poetry became the basis of Schubert’s first cycle to tell a complete story over the course of its 20 songs. Nicky Spence is one of Scotland’s proudest sons and his unique skills as a singing actor and the rare honesty of his musicianship have earned him a place at the top of the classical music profession. Nicky won a record contract with Decca records while still studying at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and then took a place as an inaugural Harewood Artist at the ENO. Christopher Glynn is a Grammy award-winning pianist, praised for his ‘breathtaking sensitivity’ (Gramophone), ‘irrepressible energy, wit and finesse’ (The Guardian) and ‘perfect fusion of voice and piano’ (BBC Music Magazine). He is also Artistic Director of the Ryedale Festival, where he has been praised as a ‘visionary’ and ‘inspired programmer’ (The Times).


"The Fair Maid of the Mill [is] extraordinary: For the first time, as a native English speaker, I found myself understanding this song cycle on a more intimate and revelatory level...The meticulousness of word-for-word accuracy is traded for emotional accuracy. Playwright and director Jeremy Sams was commissioned to write this new translation, and his background in both opera and musical theater lends itself well to finding the right words to convey poetic, emotional, and dramatic honesty.

Tenor Nicky Spence’s own sense of crossover theatricality heightens the immediacy and intimacy of the cycle and Sams’s new texts with a verdant tenor that blooms and contracts in emotional fits and starts. (These beats are both offset and at times juxtaposed by pianist Christopher Glynn...) As the journeyman’s dream begins to collapse on itself...Spence spits out his pleas in a fit of jealousy and panic. The clarity with which he delivers the words makes it easy to slip into the language of Schubert’s work and tap into the small details that render the story so devastating at the end—try listening to him sing of how his love 'loves hunting green' without your throat catching a bit. It’s these small details that make this English Müllerin so rich and compulsively listenable.

--Van Magazine (Olivia Giovetti)

This is the third in the Signum label’s sequence of Schubert song cycles using an English version of the texts by Jeremy Sams. His is in no sense a literal translation and is never in the least archly “poetic”, but is instead couched in relatively, plain, direct English which captures the spirit and directness of the original German while jettisoning any faux-Romantic or medieval archaisms such as “fain would I”. The translation is vernacular and quotidian but not modish or vulgar – and Sams does a fine job of reproducing the rhyming, strophic form of some songs, finding workable rhymes which do not sound forced, so in “Mine” we hear “sound, round, resound” and “found”, and “shine, wine, intertwine, combine” and “mine” sequentially to reproduce the effect of the German. The freedom of the English into which some songs are rendered might initially take the listener aback but a moment’s reflection will confirm the aptness and fidelity of Sams’ rendering; hence, the opening song begins “A miller loves to sit and dream of somewhere” rather than “To wander is the miller’s delight, to wander” or some such precious transliteration – and I know which I prefer. Sometimes the translation is both felicitous and amusing, as when in “Impatience” (Ungeduld) Sams picks up on the German: “ich möcht es sän auf jedes frische Beet/ Mit Kressensamen” (I’d like to sow it in every fresh bed with cress seeds) and translates that colloquially as “I want to sow the words in watercress” so that it rhymes with “happiness” in the next line, and in “The Hunter” the miller girl’s cabbage patch (Kohlgarten) is transformed into a “strawberry bed” so that “fruit” rhymes conveniently with “shoot”. Certain lines impress themselves immediately upon the mind of the listener by their memorability, such as the alliterative “The sound of rushing water has mesmerised my mind” in the second song.

Nicky Spence’s diction is so pellucid as to render the provision of the English texts almost superfluous but such thoughtfulness on the part of the label remains a welcome gesture. [Spence's] beautiful, flexible, easily-produced sound...never falters; his tone encompasses both sweetness and power as required and his knack of placing just the right emphasis or applying a momentary pause in the words without unduly disrupting the vocal line is apparent throughout. I particularly like the way he can introduce a desperate sighing note into his timbre without it turning mawkish. Christopher Glynn supports him with some of the most subtle and sensitive pianism I have even heard applied to this work; his playing is by turns as fluid, sparkling and turbulent as rushing water. He and Spence make an ideally matched partnership – fresh and immediate, presenting it in a manner which could easily win new adherents to this miraculous song cycle but, in Glynn’s words, is also capable of 'offering a new perspective to those who know it well.'

--MusicWeb International (Ralph Moore)

Product Description:

  • Release Date: May 20, 2022

  • UPC: 635212071120

  • Catalog Number: SIGCD711

  • Label: Signum Classics

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Period: Romantic

  • Composer: Franz Schubert

  • Performer: Nicky Spence