Debuting at the Schubertiade festival with Franz Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin in 2012, tenor Mauro Peter − then only aged 25 − took tremendous accolades. Now we could bear witness to his developed artistic maturity with this performance of the same sublime song cycle in Schwarzenberg, one of the festival's two superb venues.

Mauro Peter © Machreich | Franziska Schrödinger
Mauro Peter
© Machreich | Franziska Schrödinger

Then as now, the distinguished Viennese pianist and musicologist Helmut Deutsch accompanied the singer. An insightful mentor, Deutsch has played for and mentored many world-renowned musicians, and he was instrumental, too, in honing Mauro Peter’s own Schubert interpretation. As such, their work together here in Schwarzenberg was as well-crafted as a fine piece of case furniture. I never once caught a moment of mismatched timing, or felt that any of the words of William Müller’s dramatic poems paled for lack of color. Instead, the two musicians' passages were seamless, with one artist simply underscoring the gifts of the other.

In the great cycle of twenty Schubert songs over the course of about an hour, we follow the story of a young journeyman miller whose mood takes a dramatic course from promising cheerfulness through stinging jealousy and ends in abject despair. The young man’s initial optimism − boosted by his job prospects and eye for the beautiful miller’s daughter − was highly infectious in Mauro Peter’s rendition. The singer’s winning smile, animated eyebrows and robust gestures framed the opening of the familiar Das Wandern, where he underscored each of the poem’s main drivers – wandering, water, millwheels, brook stones – with its own unique sound attributes. In Halt! I was struck by how clearly William Müller’s lyrics came across; even in passages that were chock-full of syllables in quick succession, the singer’s enunciation was excellent.

In Danksagung an den Bach, Peter’s song began with questions about the journeyman’s destiny, but then turned towards a dreamier voice in which he communed with the piano impressively. In Am Feierabend he showed an accomplished actor’s command of handling different character’s voices.

After the first two stanzas of Neugier, the piano and singer paused, signaling that marked mood changes were in store. The poor journeyman asks the brook to tell him whether the miller’s daughter might love him, but also sets a marker for the pending tragedy. In Ungeduld, Peter’s body language changed accordingly; there were balled fists, a virtual stream of words professing his character’s passion in Dein ist mein Herz which was sung at resounding volume.

Slowly, however, unrequited love begins its painful handiwork. Tränenregen, the young man − sitting just once with the miller’s daughter − realizes that the girl is more interested in the landscape that she is in him, that it is the brook alone that wants him “in its depths”. Peter’s voice here was as naturally sweet and straightforward as in any Schubert song I know. He told us the story as one would a close friend, but with a vocal portrayal that harboured subtle fearfulness. Shortly thereafter, was the tremendously emphatic, short Mein which came with the force of a powerful locomotive.

In the narrative, it is the hunter − a man more fitting for the young woman’s station  − who becomes the object of the journeyman’s jealous outbursts, reason for his tragic despondency and ultimate suicide. Peter carried out all the transformations handsomely, changing resisters and the vocal demands they placed on him without interruption. In the highly dramatic Eifersucht und Stolz, he left the whole hall almost spluttering in the wake of such fiery emotion. One felt entirely at the mercy of this impassioned temperament: none the least, because the singer made direct and repeated eye contact with members of the audience.

Finally, he moved into an elegiac, seemingly crazed state of abject depression. Peter sang of how the miller’s daughter should remember him; “Der meint’ es treu” was the line that wrenched my own heart. Notably, the cycle closes with the brook’s own elegy to the drowned man. In Des Baches Wiegenlied, Peter drew tenderly on the water’s “blue crystal chamber” as the final resting place, yet ended on a muscular note: The full moon rises, the sky above is so vast, the journeyman has become the brook’s. Given such beautiful verse, magical piano and Mauro Peter’s extraordinary voice, the image resonated long afterwards.