Music at Paxton

Benjamin Appl

Paxton House, by Berwick

Keith Bruce, four stars

FRANZ Schubert’s Die Shone Mullerin is a song cycle for a young man that requires an accomplished singer, and German Benjamin Appl is the finished article in both respects - the miller’s lass would surely have been more flattered by his attentions than the poems suggest.

His range of expression was evident from the opening song of Wandering, dynamic and totally varied from top to bottom, and assertive over what was initially slightly over-loud playing for the acoustic of Payton’s lovely Picture Gallery by pianist Graham Johnson.

By the fifth song, Evening’s Rest, which introduces the words of the cycle’s title for the first time, Appl’s colourful approach to the narrative was utterly compelling and any issues of balance resolved with Johnson precision playing of the introduction to Impatience, the first real show-stopper of the sequence. Appl has some distinctive ways to hold the listen, including a marginal hesitation before key words and phrases, and can find four different ways to sing “Dein ist mein Herz” at the end of each verse without deviation or repetition.

Memorable moments like that came thick and fast. Perhaps only someone with German as their mother tongue could sing Morning Greeting quite so conversationally, or give the prosaic “Ade, ich geh nach Haus” (Goodbye, I’m going home) at the close of Rain of Tears such a matter-of-fact delivery.

It was the contrast between that and the frantic delusionary Mein! that followed that was the other great strength of Appl’s reading. Beyond its undeniable musical strength and utterly enthralling hour-long narrative (with the appearance of The Hunter sung faster than a non-native speaker would dare), the young singer gave us a fiercely piercing psychological study of the romantic young man, more in love with the idea of love than with the lass herself.