Jamie W. Hall is a fulltime member of the BBC Singers but also a conductor and a published composer, besides being a keen performer of art songs; Schubert is a favourite composer, so it is logical that his debut CD should be devoted to Die schöne Müllerin.
He presents his credentials convincingly at once in Das Wandern: he has a light, warm, well-modulated baritone voice and excellent enunciation, takes care over nuances and sings with taste; there are no exaggerated accents or other idiosyncrasies. That he also has temperament is obvious in Halt! – even more in Am Feierabend – but the general impression is that this is not going to be a reading of big gestures and heart-on-the-sleeve sentiments for large concert halls; he rather invites a few selected friends to a private living room with subdued lighting to listen to a low-voiced tale about an unhappy love-story that ends in suicide. This doesn’t imply that there is a lack of drama in the reading, only that in an intimate circle of friends there is no need to raise the voice to make a point: it’s the inflection that counts. Time and again, I see in my mind’s eye the listeners leaning forward to catch every nuance of the story. I see them feeling the yearning of the miller in Morgengruss, delivered with beautiful soft nuances legato, I see a tear in the corner of some eyes – and I certainly feel it in mine – at the end of Des Müllers Blumen, I close my eyes during Tränenregen and just inhale the beauty and the intimacy of the moment, and – like the imagined listeners in that living room – I lean back and shares the joy of the miller in Mein!: “Die geliebte Müllerin ist mein!” (The beloved mill-girl is mine!). But the happiness, almost ecstasy, is short-lived; a rival approaches in Der Jäger and he gives vent to his frustration in Eifersucht, in which his jealousy is well depicted. Jamie W. Hall has the capacity for both.
The last five songs are masterful images of various mental conditions: melancholy (Die liebe Farbe), desperation (Die böse Farbe), sorrow that develops to ecstasy (Trock’ne Blumen), resignation (Der Müller und der Bach) and conciliation (Des Baches Wiegenlied). Jamie W. Hall expresses all these feelings touchingly, singing from the heart.
Die schöne Müllerin has been recorded innumerable times since the mid-1930s when Gerhard Hüsch’s pioneering version was set down, and new discs arrive repeatedly. I have lost count of how many I have in my collection, but there are readings that should satisfy all tastes. Jamie W. Hall and Paul Plummer stand out insofar as their reading is so intimate and subdued. I refrain from calling it small-scale since that could be mistaken for insufficient – which it isn’t. Quite recently I reviewed a recording with American baritone Michael Kelly who conjured up the same sense of intimacy and which triggered me to use a similar metaphor to the one employed above: “the effect was that of a private party, some friends sitting in a living room, lit by the flames from a fireplace, the atmosphere rather hushed”. The difference was that Kelly was accompanied by guitar, which in itself is a more intimate instrument. Both readings touched me deeply. I have, as I promised in my review, returned to Michael Kelly and his guitarist David Leisner a couple of times, and I will certainly do that with Jamie W. Hall and Paul Plummer as well. As for tempos Hall/Plummer play the cycle in 66 minutes, which is quite average – Fischer-Dieskau in at least one of his many recordings is there, too – while Kelly/Leisner need 73 minutes, which is among the slowest versions in the catalogue, but one never has the feeling that it drags. Readers with an inclination towards the intimate format should definitely lend an ear to either of these readings – or both.