Notes and Editorial Reviews
Frauenliebe und -leben
Aksel Schiøtz (ten); Gerald Moore (pn);
Charles Panzéra (bar); Alfred Cortot (pn);
Gerhard Hüsch (bar); Hanns Udo Müller;
Lotte Lehmann (sop); Paul Ulanowsky (pn);
Marian Anderson (alt); Franz Rupp (pn);
Kathleen Ferrier (alt); Bruno Walter (pn)
MUSIC & ARTS 1235 (2 CDs, 140:59) Live: Lehmann, New York 1946; Ferrier, Edinburgh 1949
Recorded between 1935 and 1950, this set offers us a challenging compilaton of six indubitably great Lieder singers from the middle years of the last century. They are challenging because, to the extent that the performing tradition plays any useful role in modern musical performance, these recordings stand close to the heart of that experience. As near as I can tell, all but one of these have been issued at least once previously on CD and are still available. Putting them together this way, however, invites comparison; indeed, it makes it inevitable. This is all to the good. Even more to the good is the wonderful singing we are given here.
20:3, Marc Mandel welcomed the reissue of Aksel Schiøtz’s 1946 recording of
with Gerald Moore, which we have here. Schiøtz’s (1906–75) voice will not be to everyone’s taste, but he understood the intimacy of these songs: There is hushed pleasure in the early part of his reading and wistful disappointment in the latter. At the same time, there is a sense of power held in reserve, as in “Im Rhein, im heiligen Strome.” For some reason, in “Aus alten Märchen,” Schiøtz chose to use Heine’s original word, “Schaum,” at mm. 99, 103, instead of the first edition’s “Traum,” as does Thomas Hampson in his traversal of the first version of the cycle. Gerald Moore’s accompaniments are wonderful, too, and his postlude to the last song is poetic in just the way that matches Schiøtz’s interpretation. Though the piano is recorded distant from the singer, as was common at the time, it is clear that the two are working closely together.
As a recitalist, Charles Panzéra (1896–1976) was mostly known for his eager championship of the French
, but Schubert and Schumann also had a claim upon his repertoire. He had a light baritone of the type called the “baryton-Martin,” roughly a tenor with a baritone range. This 1935 recording has a slight tendency to emphasize the tenor side of his voice rather than the baritonal. Perhaps it is the short-take nature of recording then that accounts for a certain sense of working through the cycle song by song. Alfred Cortot’s crisp and clear accompaniments are closely recorded and, though there is plenty of loud bass, the piano is quite bright; we are always aware that he is there, even to the point of being more aware of him than Panzéra in the last song, when he occasionally all but drowns out the voice.
Though he sang some memorable opera roles in the inter-war period, Gerhard Hüsch (1901–84) achieved his greatest success as a Lieder recitalist. As far as I can tell, this 1936 recording has never been issued on CD. This is a shame because Hüsch had a fine voice for song, and we hear it here. Even better, he knows where this cycle can go, and takes a darker view of it than does, say, Schiøtz. Hanns Udo Müller supports him all the way, though recorded quite distantly and on a piano with a fairly muddy bass. While both Panzéra and Hüsch use a modest portamento, which, though typical of the time, one will either like or not, Hüsch is not afraid of one or two rhythmic shifts, all but one of which, however, come out of the words themselves. The exception is in the last song, where he begins the final
long before Schumann calls for it, which means we don’t notice it when it arrives.
One of the major hurdles of getting through
intact is surviving the seventh song, “Ich grolle nicht.” We have nowadays come to anticipate the mighty blast and following relief that usually accompanies that “Herzen frisst” (mm. 27–28) and tend to forget that this is actually a song and not an aria. That splendid high A to G in the voice is not what Schumann wrote, however, which is the D a fifth lower, though the notes do appear as optional in the first printed edition. None of the three singers here take these alternative notes, though all can reach them when they come in other songs. Not taking them makes it a very different song, one much more in keeping with the slowly darkening tone of the whole cycle rather than as a sudden outburst of violence, as it is often claimed to be by singers who cannot really hit the notes easily or safely but feel obliged to try. What we have without them, then, is a song that is not intended as ironic—I’m not complaining but I’ll say it loudly enough so you see that I actually am—but as a statement of fact. Importantly, this is not the high point of the cycle; we must get the narrator to the last song.
When we come to
Frauenliebe und -leben
, we enter different territory. Though sometimes seen as
woman’s cycle, Adalbert von Chamisso’s texts probably strike modern women as difficult to take with a straight face. That there is a progression but no clear narrative makes it difficult to unify them in performance.
Lotte Lehmann (1888–1976) came late to the art song, but it became the center of her career after her emigration to the United States. One must take this recording as a heartfelt performance, and Lehmann is very much in charge of this reading. She takes great liberties in her tempos, rhythms, and execution. With respect to the latter, for instance, in her generous scoops in the larger intervals in the first song she harkens farther back in singing history than we are mostly aware of. This is not at all to be seen as sloppy or inadequate but as an interpretive decision, as she can clearly take them cleanly elsewhere. It does show, however, how our sense of singing generally and of singing songs in particular has changed in the 60 years since this recording was made. But just listen to her wonderful reading of the third song, “Ich kan nicht fassen,” for instance, or of the bitter last one, “Nun hast du mir den ersten Schmerz gethan,” to hear how she makes every word work to convey its meaning to the song: The words clearly come first, everything else later.
This 1946 live performance (as I understand it to be) does not represent Lehmann’s first recording of the cycle, and though it may have been released before, I cannot say what its provenance is. Its great drawback is the sound of the piano, which is so muddy as to be indistinguishable from a mop, despite Paul Ulanowsky’s best efforts.
Through no decision of her own, Marian Anderson’s (1897–1993) career took place almost exclusively on the recital stage, and she was the American more than any other who brought song into a greater public awareness, not least through her many television appearances. Slightly differing declared timings suggest that this 1950 recording may not be the same as the still-in-print RCA recording from the same year, but I have not been able to make a direct comparison.
Anderson has a neutral position on these texts. Though she takes the cycle poem by poem, there is still a sense of continuity to the whole. As was not uncommon at the time in song recitals, she tends to thin her voice on the top, but let her rich middle and lower registers sound fully, though clearly under complete control; listen, especially, to her fine reading of “Du Ring an meinem Finger.”
Kathleen Ferrier (1912–53) had a short but intensive career both in the opera house and in the recital hall. Both of her recordings of this cycle are still available, and in many couplings, including the complete recital of which this is a part. I am not a particular fan of Ferrier, but here she has a firm presence that reaches out to the listener at once. This may be partly due to the fact that the recital took place in a large space and she therefore could, indeed,
to project a larger sound than in a small recital hall, and this let her voice show its fullness to its advantage. From the first song, she knows what she wants to happen. She comes the closest of the three here to pulling all the songs into one whole: All move in one direction, leading to that final, dark song, which seems such a shock after the relatively lighter tone that precedes it. This recording is a special delight.
I am, however, considerably less charmed with Bruno Walter’s accompaniments than is the author of the notes for this recording, Tully Potter. Whatever his accomplishments in front of an orchestra, Walter’s waywardness and fumbling at the piano is a distraction from truly wonderful singing. How Ferrier got through it all, I know not.
The recordings have been superbly restored by Lani Spahr; they are clear and clean. Alas, nothing is said about the source material for them. A greater handicap, however, is that there are no texts. Though most of these recordings are still available, it is a pleasure and a lesson to have them all in one compilation, and they are to be recommended.
FANFARE: Alan Swanson