Skovhus’s reading is exquisitely nuanced and it is filled with heavy contrasts and often a dramatic approach.
Bo Skovhus, now in his mid-50s, recorded Die schöne Müllerin twenty years ago for Sony – a recording I haven’t heard – but he has longed to get a second chance, and here it is. Ever since his sensational debut as Don Giovanni at the Volksoper in Vienna in 1988, he has been one of the most sought-after lyric baritones, not only in opera but also as a recitalist. His was always a beautiful, flexible and nuanced voice, distantly similar to that of his former opera manager of the Volksoper, Eberhard Waechter, who also was a baritone, and his delicate pianissimos were greatly admired. There areRead more similarities between them when it comes to timbre and involvement. I grew up with Waechter’s Danilo in Die lustige Witwe in the legendary EMI recording with Schwarzkopf and Gedda and heard Skovhus in the role at the Vienna State Opera some fifteen years ago. Even today, after an international career of almost thirty years, he has retained his characteristics, and although his tone is not as rock-steady as it once was it is still a pliable instrument that allows him to express his deeply personal interpretation of this oft performed and recorded song cycle.
Generally speaking Skovhus’s reading is exquisitely nuanced and it is filled with heavy contrasts and often a dramatic approach. Listen to Halt! for instance, or the energetic Mein! and perhaps even more typically Eifersucht und Stolz. There is also an unmistakable nervousness in his reading, or shall we call it eagerness. But on the other hand there are many moments of repose and inwardness. Der Neugierige is sung in masterly manner and the final two songs, Der Müller und der Bach and Des Baches Wiegenlied are deeply touching. Others have distinguished the voices of the miller and the brook more clearly, but that is more a matter of taste and there is no denying the care over nuances that Skovhus shows here as well as in the rest of the cycle. Tempos are judiciously chosen and I note that the overall timing differs only marginally between the two recordings – it is a matter of just a few seconds. So the basic concept seems to have been the same twenty years apart – in that respect at least. The rapport between Skovhus and his accompanist Stefan Vladar seems very tight. Vladar, who has a long and successful career as pianist and conductor – he is since 2008 Chief Conductor and Artistic Director of the Vienna Chamber Orchestra – also works extensively as accompanist. His cooperation with Bo Skovhus is a long-term affair, and they are in the process of recording all three Schubert cycles. Hopefully it won’t be too long before the next instalment appears.
Readers may ask how this recording holds its own in the fierce competition, since the catalogues overflow with recordings of Die schöne Müllerin. It is practically impossible to pick a clear winner among all the great versions issued from Gerhard Hüsch in the 1930s an onwards. To begin with one has to decide whether one prefers it sung by a tenor or a baritone. I know many prefer a tenor in Die schöne Müllerin and a baritone in Winterreise. Since many years ago, I have a firm favourite in the tenor stakes: the Dane Aksel Schiötz – Skovhus’s older compatriot – who recorded it with Gerald Moore in 1946, only months before he underwent surgery for a tumor acusticus, and largely lost his ability to sing. He managed to retrain his voice and made comeback as a baritone. His recording is available on the Dacapo label and worth seeking out for anyone who loves this song cycle. Among latter-day tenors, either of Ian Bostridge’s recordings is recommendable. Among baritones Gerhard Hüsch still holds his own, and among latter-day singers Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, who recorded it several times, is a safe bet with Olaf Bär and Matthias Goerne as runners-up. Bo Skovhus and Stefan Vladar are also in the race and this recording has a profile of its own that stands up well against the competitors.
– MusicWeb International (Göran Forsling) Read less