- Die schöne Müllerin, song cycle, for voice & piano, D. 795 (Op. 25)
"I hope I die before I get old!" How many romantic poets and musicians have hurled that threat at immortality? From Wordsworth through Townsend, the challenge to live fast, die young, and leave a beautiful corpus of works has inspired many an act of artistic creation. Wilhelm Müller's "Die Schöne Müllerin" poetry cycle -- with its naïve narrator, its tragic romance, and its final love-death -- inspired Schubert to create his first song cycle after his first near-death experience with syphilis. Both the poetry and the music of the cycle are quintessentially youthful, and, to some over 30, the sentimental story could seem hopelessly mawkish and the strophic settings could seem fatally tedious. And yet, despite the inevitable generation gap, singers over 30 continue to insist on performing "Die Schöne Müllerin" -- including 65-year-old Dutch baritone Max van Egmond in this 2001 recording. And a good thing it is, too. Egmond clearly knows the music backwards, forwards, inside out, and sideways, and despite the fact that he's old enough to be the narrator's grandfather, he's profoundly sympathetic to his plight and knows how to make the most convincing case for his dire solution. With phrasing that makes each strophe new and compassion that makes every sentimentality compelling, Egmond shapes the cycle into an immensely affecting lyric drama. And while it has to be admitted that Egmond's voice is no longer young, it likewise has to be agreed that he never asks it to do anything it can't do, and if the maturity of his tone belies the quintessentially youthful poetry and music, Egmond's measured but emotional delivery adds a touch of poignancy to his performance. Playing a 1835 Conrad Graf fortepiano, the eternally young Penelope Crawford is a technically skillful and wonderfully graceful accompanist for Egmond, and Peter Watchorn and Joel Gordon provide them both with a very natural-sounding acoustic to perform in.