LOEWE Lieder and Balladen (complete) • Cord Garben (pn); various soloists • CPO 777 355-2 (21 CDs + CD-ROM: 1428:21 Text and Translation)
If you love Schubert, you should also love Carl Loewe, his immediate heir. And, just as Hyperion has graced the world with its 40-CD complete Schubert Lieder anthology, cpo has now likewise completed and assembled in one box its complete recordings of Loewe’s solo Lieder and ballads. (Unlike the Hyperion SchubertRead more set, this does not include duets, trios, etc.) Several of the individual releases have previously been reviewed in Fanfare. (Vols. 7–9 and 11–14 are listed in the Fanfare Archive; see print issues 21:3, 22:1, 22:3, 23:4, 24:2, and 25:1. All but the last were reviewed by John Bauman; Henry Fogel reviewed Vol. 14.) Therefore, in the interests of brevity (and at the sensible request of the chief editor), I will not discuss individual works or singers in detail, but rather provide a summary of the project as a whole, with further brief comments as needed.
The CDs in this set were recorded between 1993 and 2007. Unlike the Hyperion boxed set reissue of the Schubert Lieder, this reissue retains the original order and format, instead of re- (or dis-) organizing the songs chronologically by date of composition. The roster of singers is as follows:
CD 1: Andreas Schmidt (bar)
CD 2: Iris Vermillion (mez)
CD 3: Roman Trekel (bar)
CD 4: Gabriele Rossmanith (sop)
CD 5: Edith Mathis (sop)
CD 6: Kurt Moll (bs)
CD 7: Andreas Schmidt (bar)
CD 8: Iris Vermillion (mez)
CD 9: Christoph Prégardien (ten)
CD 10: Ruth Ziesak (sop)
CD 11: Monica Groop (mez)
CD 12: Yvi Jänicke (mez)
CD 13: Christian Elsner (ten)
CD 14: Kurt Moll (bs)
CD 15: Urszula Kryger (sop) [tracks 1-7] and Thomas Mohr (bar) [tracks 8-16]
CD 16: Roman Trekel (bar)
CD 17: Julie Kaufmann (sop)
CD 18: Jan Kobow (ten)
CD 19: Ingeborg Danz (sop)
CD 20: Robert Wörle (ten)
CD 21: Morten Ernst Lassen (bar)
Thus four singers (Moll, Schmidt, Trekel, and Vermillion) are represented by two CDs each, while one CD is shared by two singers (Kryger and Mohr). With few exceptions, the quality of the singing ranges from satisfactory to outstanding, with most of it being at least very good. All of the singers have good to excellent diction, and are attentive to bringing out the moods of the texts as a whole and the meanings of particular words. While Cord Garben deserves warm accolades for conceiving this project and seeing it through, he is a good, solid accompanist but not an inspired one; Gerald Moore or Helmut Deutsch he is not. Interestingly, his best work occurs with his finest singers; one suspects that they inspired him, and may even have suggested to him points of interpretation.
As for the contributions of the individual singers, here are my thumbnail sketches:
If you could only afford to have one CD from this set, it would be Vol, 6 with Kurt Moll. (Note: Vols. 1–11, 14, and 16 unfortunately now appear to be out of print as single CDs.) Basses generally don’t get the recognition that sopranos and tenors do, but Moll has to be on the extremely short list of greatest singers of the last quarter of the 20th century. Here his voice is present in all its magnificent, refulgent glory, with its distinctive rich fruitiness, exemplary diction, and nuanced but utterly natural interpretations. Henry Fogel complained in his review of Vol. 14 that Moll’s voice had become somewhat dry at that point; I can only say that most other singers would gladly sacrifice one of their vocal cords to have such “dryness” at age 58. These two CDs embody Lieder singing at its very greatest.
Other outstanding contributions (in order of descending voice range) come from Ruth Ziesak, Yvi Jänicke, Urszula Kryger (who sings Loewe’s Polish songs), Iris Vermillion, Jan Kobow, Christoph Prégardien, Morten Ernst Lassen, Andreas Schmidt, and Roman Trekel. All have voices with beautiful timbres and completely secure production, from bottom to top in range and piano to forte in dynamics, and are superior Lieder interpreters. In the case of Prégardien, Schmidt, and Trekel, the beneficent influence of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau is quite evident (Schmidt being a direct pupil), in both the enunciation and pointing of text and the shaping of consonants and vowels. I wish to single out Morten Ernst Lassen for particular commendation. Not to be confused with his fellow Danish baritone Morten Frank Larsen, he was a previously unfamiliar figure to me; I can only find two other recordings featuring him—songs by Carl Nielsen and psalms by Felix Mendelssohn. This is most unfortunate, for he is an artist of the very first rank. His dark, rich, plangent baritone is a shade heavier in weight and color than that of Matthias Goerne, and his diction as good or better. He is a major find that no one who loves great singing should miss.
In the category of good but not great I would place Ingeborg Danz, Monica Groop, and Thomas Mohr. Otherwise fine singers, both Danz and Groop tend to lose focus and become slightly unsteady in softly sung passages. Mohr has a solid but slightly grainy baritone that employs a certain degree of facial mask resonance, producing a sound ideal for villainous operatic roles (e.g., Don Pizarro or Alberich) but less than ideal for Lieder.
In the category of satisfactory to mixed I would put Julie Kaufmann, Edith Mathis, and Christian Elsner. Kaufmann’s voice is very light and pure, tending to the wan and fragile side due to inadequate breath support, and her top notes are a bit wiry and sometimes slightly off-pitch. She is nonetheless an affecting interpreter at her best. With Edith Mathis we have one of the great singers of the late 20th century, unfortunately caught several years past her prime. The sovereign mastery of her interpretive art is still abundantly present, but the voice itself has acquired a certain harshness, with production forced to override an incipient irregularity in the vibrato. Even so, I would take her over many other sopranos active today. John Bauman waxed enthusiastic about Elsner in 23:2, but I must firmly dissent; Elsner is not bad, but his voice has the same kind of throaty, constricted, unresonant sound as Peter Schreier and Robert Tear, albeit to a lesser degree. If you are partial to those two singers—obviously, I am not—then you will like Elsner too; but no one should expect anything sounding like Fritz Wunderlich.
Finally, in the mediocre to poor category fall Gabriele Rossmanith and Robert Wörle. Rossmanith has the same defects as Kaufmann, but to a more pronounced degree. Wörle is simply unacceptable. He has an extremely nasal, whiny voice, with no support at the bottom and severe strain at the top, where his pitch frequently turns flat. Why he was chosen for this project is a complete mystery.
In sum, then, I would rate 13 and one-half of the 21 CDs as outstanding, two and one-half as good, three as satisfactory to mixed, and only two as mediocre to poor—a very good result overall, and far better than that of many other comparable projects.
Production of the set is up to cpo’s usual stellar standards. Sound quality is excellent throughout the series. Again unlike the budget Hyperion boxed set of the Schubert Lieder, the booklet here reproduces all of the original tables of contents, essays in German and English, and photos of the artists from each individual release, and adds an alphabetical list of each song by title, indexed to its singer and CD. A bonus CD-ROM includes all of the original German texts with English translations, in two separate .pdf files. (Warning: each file prints out at more than 350 pages.) The set typically runs for about $200, or less than $10 per CD—not cheap, but a terrific value for the money. If you can’t afford the entire set, at least consider acquiring some of the individual volumes by the best participants. Strongly recommended.