These recordings are well known and well
loved, but this is the first time I have seen them on a single
disc. The Wesendonck-Lieder, Liebestod and Alto
Rhapsody were released together on a 1962 LP, the cover
of which is reproduced on the CD booklet. Over the years,
these performances have been split up and coupled with other
EMI recordings, so it is good to have them reunited to showcase
The Wesendonck-Lieder were last seen
in harness with Klemperer’s majestic Bruckner 6, before its
GROC remastering. Christa Ludwig has their measure and sings
them with sensitivity, emphasising both the dreaminess of
the text and the Tristan-esque unsatisfied longing
of the vocal lines. Klemperer and the Philharmonia play Felix
Mottl’s orchestration with all the alternating Wagnerian
heft and tenderness the songs call for. The fourth song, Schmerzen,
is absolutely delicious and shows off the purity of Ludwig’s
upper range. So does Isoldes Liebestod, with Klemperer
again providing a superbly balanced accompaniment. On the
evidence of this performance Ludwig would have made a wonderful
Isolde. John Steane notes in the booklet, though, that the
strain of that most demanding of soprano roles may well have
damaged Ludwig’s wonderful mezzo voice. On balance we do
better to live without a Ludwig Isolde and enjoy the many
other recordings she left us.
Ludwig’s Alto Rhapsody has been kicking
around as a filler with Klemperer’s Brahms symphony recordings
since they were first issued on CD, and is still included
with Klemperer’s cycle in its current GROC incarnation. My
colleague Christopher Howell was not best impressed by this
performance in his review of
that set, but I cannot agree with his assessment. Klemperer
and Ludwig certainly take a grand, dark-hued view of the
piece, but this is in keeping with Goethe’s text. If you
like Klemperer’s approach to Brahms, as I do, then you will
find Ludwig’s singing entirely sympathetic and rejoice in
the contribution the men of Wilhelm Pitz’s expertly drilled
Philharmonia Chorus make to the final bars.
Rather than leave the CD there, at the 40-odd
minute playing time of the original LP, EMI have avoided
censure by adding some well chosen fillers to this disc.
The aria from Fidelio is a mere taster
of Ludwig’s Leonore, perhaps the best ever realisation of
that role on disc. It deserves its place here, but you really
owe it to yourself to buy the complete opera recording from
which it is drawn (see review).
The Mahler items are also gems. Ludwig is
suitably wounded and declamatory in Das irdische Leben,
the first of the two Wunderhorn songs. In the second, Wo
die schönen Trompeten blasen, she is wide-eyed against
the delicate textures Klemperer coaxes from the Philharmonia.
The three Rückert-Lieder are essentials for any Mahlerian.
The recording dates are telling: these songs were recorded
at the same sessions as the first tracks Ludwig and Klemperer
set down for their legendary Das Lied von der Erde (see review).
Together, they capture the haunting beauty of these songs
like few others and Ludwig’s gorgeous performance of the
achingly beautiful Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen is
a perfect ending to a superb disc.
There are those who prefer Janet Baker and
Sir John Barbirolli in Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder (see review),
but to me Ludwig is every bit Baker’s equal, and Klemperer’s
clear textures edge out Barbirolli’s affectionate wallowings.
Both recordings are essential, and I would be loathe to choose
between them. Even if you buy this disc, do seek out Ludwig’s
other Mahler song recordings on EMI’s budget Encore imprint
(5745732 Dog & Trumpet version). Her Lieder
eines fahrenden Gesellen and Kindertotenlieder are
wonderful, and the duplication of the five songs included
here should be no impediment to your purchasing the Encore
disc, given the low price.
All told, this is a generously filled disc
and a worthy tribute to one of the great mezzo-sopranos,
and great singers, of the last century.
Great Recordings Of The Century