The Fair Maid of the Mill

CHRISTOPHER SMITH King of Hearts, Norwich


> King of Hearts, Norwich

Few pleasures are more civilised than spending a lunch hour listening to a fine performance of one of the outstanding masterpieces of German song from the Romantic period.

The intimate Music Room at the King of Hearts was just the right venue for Franz Schubert's Fair Maid of the Mill.

The singer was the tenor Gordon Pullin, making a welcome return to the city where he grew up. Hugh Mather was the pianist. He did more than just accompany the vocal line as he brought out colour at every turn and, in particular, interpreted the delightful echoes of the stream dashing along as the lover first met his lass, then despaired as she rejected him.

The words of the songs, by Wilhelm Mueller, are very clever in their apparent artlessness. With vivid and direct imagery, they tell a tale that could hardly be simpler. To the words, Schubert adds melody in settings that invite the performer to display his skill in attack and phrasing, in maintaining a shapely line or breaking it up to capture a feeling of agitation.

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So Pullin sometimes sounded bold and forthright, confident and bright- toned: "Mine!" he cried "She is mine!" and we could all feel glad with him. In a few moments everything had changed. Volume was reduced, resonance was limited and with just a thread of voice he set about exploring the misfortunes that had rushed in to crush optimism. This was excellent singing by an interpreter who knew exactly what he was about.