Christian Gerhaher’s baritone is obviously beautiful and he has made a reputation as a Lieder singer (and Schubert lookalike). For his Carnegie Hall recital he chose to sing the composer’s song cycle Die schöne Müllerin. I have to confess to be surprised that his very good intentions were impared by a vocal method that could seem spontaneous at first, but in fact might be the final outcome of the confrontation of an exceptionally generous vocal nature and probably inadequate schooling. As it is, his clear baritone received a rather heavy-handed treatment in order to acquire a darker hue it does not naturally have. The main victim of this method is legato. Forte notes are marred by flutter and he seems to shift to an entirely different placement for mezza voce. Whenever Schubert spins a sweet melody, it was served chopped phrasing that drained it of sweetness. More animated passages sounded like hectoring in a style similar to the almost-retired Fischer-Dieskau (nota bene – at Gerhaher’s age, Fischer-Dieskau sang these songs as an angel). The only moment in which the approach seemed to make sense with the music was a forceful and energetic Der Jäger.
There is no doubt about the singer’s intelligence, sensitiveness and musicianship. These qualities always saved him in the last minute, but one cannot help thinking of what he would be able to do if his technique would rather enhance than compromise his accomplishments.