have already issued two volumes in this series with Lotte Lehmann’s
Lieder recordings, (Vol.1
review; Vol. 2 review)
and a fourth volume is due for release in June. I waxed lyrical
about the first two and for the present one I am also full of
admiration, even though it is more controversial.
Frauenliebe und –Leben there need be no question-marks
at all, since this is a cycle seen from the female’s point of
view. Die-hard feminists may still frown upon the lack of equality
but there is no denying the deeply felt and eloquently expressed
poems by Adalbert von Chamisso. Schumann’s settings of them
from the Lieder year 1840 are among his finest.
voice in 1941 had aged slightly, showing occasional signs of
shrillness, emphasised here by the close and very clear recording.
On the other hand her voice had retained much of its bloom and
there is warmth aplenty. Like one of the finest exponents of
this cycle from the latter half of the 20th century,
Brigitte Fassbaender, she sometimes sacrifices perfectionism
for expressivity. She has the same array of expressive means,
of colouring the voice, though Fassbaender can sometimes be
even more naked. It is also a matter of basic tessitura: Fassbaender’s
deep mezzo can more easily express the darker emotions of the
songs, sometimes also wringing more sorrow from them by taking
them extra slowly. Since the poems, generally speaking, move
from light to darkness it is also instructive to compare timings.
While Lehmann is marginally slower in the first three songs,
she is markedly faster in the remaining five, indicating that
Lehmann sticks to a kind of middle-of-the-road tempo, whereas
Fassbaender’s more expressionist approach invites wider tempo
differences. It could possibly be argued that Fassbaender digs
deeper but Lehmann’s readings are certainly just as heartfelt.
There is a nervous eagerness in Helft mir, ihr Schwestern
that is touching and when she darkens the tone for the last
song, deeply moving. Bruno Walter’s accompaniments can feel
a little stiff, even heavy, but that may also be the recording
which seems to have been made in rather dry acoustics.
the sixteen settings of Heine’s poems, was also composed in
1840 but here we are in male territory. At first it feels weird
with a bright, light, girlish voice singing Im wunderschönen
Monat Mai. It is however exquisitely sung and one soon gets
used to the change of vocal perspective, especially when one
realises that Lehmann peers just as deep into these songs as
any tenor or baritone. I have listened innumerable times to
Fischer-Dieskau and Gérard Souzay and was deeply impressed by
Peter Schreier’s latest recording, issued in connection with
his 70th birthday. I wasn’t prepared for a soprano
being just as expressive. Intimate whispers like Wenn ich
in deine Augen seh’ or Allnächtlich im Traume where
time stands still are so deliciously vocalised. The big, outgoing
songs like Im Rhein, im heiligen Strome, Ich grolle
nicht and the concluding Die alten, bösen Lieder
are impressive indeed. In some other instances I felt a little
disappointed, as for example in the mercurial Die Rose, die
Lilie which seems far too measured. Changing ideals perhaps
or simply that Bruno Walter wasn’t fleet-fingered enough to
manage a faster speed. I would urge hesitant readers, though,
to scrap preconceptions and give this version a listen.
even Brigitte Fassbaender tried Dichterliebe, as far
as I know. She did however sing and record Winterreise
and quite a few women singers have done so. Lehmann wasn’t even
the first; that honour goes to Elena Gerhardt, who also recorded
some of the songs. Lehmann recorded eleven of them during her
last session for Victor in 1940 (see vol. 2) and under her new
contract with Columbia the following year she set down another
nine, in both cases with her regular pianist Paul Ulanowsky.
The Victor session mainly concentrated on the later songs while
the Columbias mostly cover the earlier ones. As with the songs
on vol. 2 it is deeply moving to hear the female voice changing
the perspective of the songs, making them more frail. But Gefrorne
Tränen becomes gripping through her use of almost contralto
chest register. In Frühlingstraum with its quick changes
between bright thoughts of Spring and the darker sides of the
singer’s predicament she is masterly expressive and Paul Ulanowsky
is also at his best here. In the last song, Der Leiermann,
the chill of the singing and the grinding of the organ send
ice shivers down the spine.
admiration for Lotte Lehmann as a Lieder singer is not only
undiminished – it has grown further. The close recording of
the voice leaves almost no barrier between the singer and the
listener but in this case lends the songs a rare intimacy.