> Joseph Schmidt. The Ultraphon Recordings 1929-1932 [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- Sept 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Joseph Schmidt. The Ultraphon Recordings 1929-1932
Operatic and Popular Arias

Recondita armonia
E lucevan le stelle
O Lola
Dein ist mein ganzes herz
Wer hat die Liebe uns ins Herz gesenk
Ich trete in Zimmer…Immer nur lacheln
Von Apfelbluten einen Kranz
Vorrei morire
Mama, quel vino e generose
Verbotener Gesang
Meine Sonne
Die Weisse Taube
Komm mein Sohnchen, auf ain Wort
Tausendmal du
Das alter wort; Ich liebe dich
Freundlich blick’ ich auf diese und jene
La donna e mobile
Liebling, nach dem Tango verbiss mich
Questa o quella
Dies’ Bildnis ist bezaubernd schon
Una furtive lagrima
Mal d’amore
Das Zauberlied
Du sollst der Kaiser meiner Seele sein
Der Emigrant
Ach ihres Auges Zauberblick
Ah si ben mio
Rachel, quand du Signeur
Me s’e me forza perditi
Der Emigrant

With Irene Eisinger, soprano (Wer hat die Liebe uns ins Herz gesenkt)
Michael Bohnen, bass (Komm, mein Sohnchen, auf ein Wort)
Various orchestras and accompaniments
Recorded 1929-32
TELDEC 0927 42665 2 [2 CDs 67’32 and 68’24]

There were three distinct phases to Joseph Schmidt’s eight-year recording career. He began with HMV – Electrola, as it was locally known – before signing for Ultraphon for the three-year period covered by this Telefunken Legacy double set. His most productive and probably best-known recordings however were the 80 odd sides made for Parlophone from 1933. Schmidt was born in Bukovina in 1904, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He trained in the cantorial Jewish tradition and later in Berlin with Weissinborn but because of his restricted height – he was 4’11" – an operatic career was never a serious possibility. He was in that respect fortunate that increasing popularity of radio broadcasts – including an extensive series of opera broadcasts – brought him popularity and the interest of major recording companies. Ultraphon/Telefunken recorded him in 37 sides – in this set there are second takes of two items – Tosti’s Marechiare and Knauer’s Der Emigrant, the former a very rare first take and the latter in a different arrangement recorded nine months apart. The records are a mixture of arias, German and Italian songs, and operetta. As was the prevailing custom most of the Italian arias are sung in German – he retains the original language for such as Tosti’s Vorrei morire and Arturo Buzzi-Peccia’s Lolita. Herbert Grenzebach, Ultraphon’s first recording manager, is quoted in the sumptuous and properly extensive booklet notes as saying that at his audition Schmidt’s voice sounded rough at the top with a "cutting" quality to it but that on replaying the test discs and cutting the frequency range slightly the voice emerged with attractive ease. Whatever the ramifications of his strident top it’s clear that he possessed a superb instrument capable of great flexibility and power, well modulated, if not exceptionally well supported at the bottom of the range. The top however was capable of glittering attack, clarion in its implications, and his breath control was superb. Whether the lack of operatic experience was a cause or whether the recordings were somehow deficient he never sings quite softly enough – he certainly doesn’t float a pianissimo in the way many of his contemporaries routinely did. But Schmidt was a tenor of tremendous gifts, an interpreter of surprising subtlety and many of these Ultraphons attest to his sheer distinction, not least in the lesser rank German songs, of which there are an unavoidable many.

Some of the accompaniments are soupy and scrappy – contingents drawn from various Berlin orchestras such as the Stadtische and Staatsoper and the Philharmonic itself were used though various other groups, including Lajos Kiss’ famous Gipsy Orchestra, are also to be found here. The unnamed accompaniment to Recondita armonia for example, the first recording from August 1929, is horribly provincial, with a mass of swimmy fiddles and a generally glutinous air. Schmidt almost invariably rose implacably above such poor backing and in truth the standard improves markedly. He lays down an early challenge to Tauber in Dein ist mein ganzes Herz – he hasn’t quite the conversational charm but it’s a sign of his burgeoning reputation in the operetta field in the Weimar Berlin of the late twenties. With Irene Eisinger he essays Wer hat die Liebe uns ins Herz gesenkt a matter of a few months after its stage premiere with Tauber; a treasurable performance this. He tries just a little too hard in Mascagni’s Mamma quel vino e generoso, or in its German translation, Mutter, der Rote war allzu feurig. Ciampi’s Nina demonstrates his excellent control of line sustained by perfect breathing; the band here is noticeably well behaved for him. The August 1930 Marechiare is a rara avis. Some copies were released on Ultraphon A575 but it’s September’s recording that is the one generally known and rightly so. The re-recording was necessary to enable Schmidt to deal with the strain of his top notes that mar the earlier performance; he also took the occasion slightly to quicken the tempo. The Bartered Bride extract with the estimable Michael Bohnen has slightly muddied lower frequencies but is still a sonorous and exciting performance. In Questo o quella Schmidt employs some discreet portamenti and his idiosyncratic Italian consonants; it’s a good, rather stout attempt but not one that can match contemporary Italian performances. In Una furtive lagrima he even embellishes the line – tastefully so – and takes some of the interpolated high notes. Of the German songs the standout is Robert Stolz’s Du sollst der Kaiser meiner Seele sein. Schmidt brings ardour, simplicity and enormous beauty of tone to a song that deserves all these qualities – a magnificent performance of a stunning tune. There’s strong and passionate declamation in Halévy’s Rachel, quand du Signeur and the novelty of two takes of Der Emigrant – one with a piano ending, the other, from the following year with orchestral.

These Telefunken Legacies are superbly produced with nostalgic 78 style record sleeves and in book format with text and photographs of high quality; Hansfried Sieben’s note is a mini-essay that documents Schmidt’s Ultraphon years – and beyond – with zeal and colour. I enjoyed every minute of these generous discs.

Jonathan Woolf

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