The third volume
in Naxos’s Lotte Lehmann lieder recording series brings us to
the three cycles she recorded in Los Angeles during 1941, though
here she recorded only extracts from Winterreise.
Lehmann was still in generally fine voice and though it’s
idle to pretend that she had emerged technically unscathed over
the years – there’s some fraying at the top of her tessitura
– of far more importance is the cultivation of expression that
we hear throughout the cycles.
In a sense it would
have been better for her to have been accompanied by someone
other than Bruno Walter in the Schumann cycles. Inspirational
he may have been but he was also leaden. Starting as early as
Seit ich ihn geseh’n, the first of Frauenliebe und
–Leben, we find in his playing a rather pedantic, often
pedagogic heaviness that occasionally seems to inhibit tempi.
Lehmann though employs a full range of expressive devices in
her response to the texts – diminuendi and expressive rubato
in Er der Herrlichste von Allen, the flourishing chest
voice in Ich kann’s nicht fassen nicht glauben, constant
shading and colour without impeding the naturalness of the declamation.
The boxy recording doesn’t flatter her tonally and neither does
it enhance Walter who’s especially exposed in Helft mir,
ihr Schwestern. Regarding studio conditions I’m nevertheless
happy that Mark Obert-Thorn has resisted the temptation slightly
to cushion the sound through adding artificial reverberation.
Colleagues of his would probably have done so in the same way
that some have added reverb to the notoriously dry Parisian
studios of the 1930s – but resistance to this temptation is
the better solution as far as I’m concerned.
was recorded almost six weeks after the sessions
for Frauenliebe und –Leben. Again Walter, for all his
insights, proves technically fallible. Beyond him Lehmann’s
urgency of expression, her sensitive power and her acute awareness
of the balance of weight and clarity lifts the performance to
the heights. One senses Walter’s particular insights too but
even in, say, Hor ich das Liedchen klingen, where his
imagination is at its most acute we find that he’s unable to
inflect with anything like the finesse of his partner. That
relatively turgid quality hems in Lehmann from time to time
– try Aus alten Marchen winkt es where her natural buoyancy
of rhythm exists almost in parallel to his own circumscribed
Paul Ulanowsky may
not have possessed Walter’s unerring ear for text and meaning
but he was a better accompanist. The gradations of tone are
more sympathetic; the natural rhythm of his playing is crisper.
She’d earlier recorded eleven songs from Winterreise for
Victor and this Columbia set of nine proves similarly inspired
in interpretative stance. To take one single example amongst
so many is invidious but listen to her use of fluid portamenti
in Wasserflut and how she conveys textual subtleties
through the most expressive of means. As before she employs
the full range of voice, from a slightly strident top to the
kind of chest voice she employed so freely in Frauenliebe
und –Leben. And as before the freedom of her declamation
and the frequent use of ritenuti and other such devices gives
her performance a powerfully personalised stamp. In the face
of this both here and in Dichterliebe the voice type
and sex of the singer is rendered if not irrelevant at least
of marginal significance.
As noted Obert-Thorn’s
work here is respectful of the originals and allows one to hear
Lehmann in the full flood of her intensely communicative and
overwhelmingly passionate maturity.
see also Review
by Göran Forsling