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BARGAIN OF THE MONTH

Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Lieder: Geheimnis D.491, Die Forelle D.550, Der Künig in Thule D.367, Gretchen am Spinnrade D.118, Der Hirt auf dem Felsen D.965*, Auf dem Riesenkoppe D.611, Du bist die Ruhí D.776, La Pastorella al Prato D.528, Heidenröslein D.257, Schwanengesang D.744, Wehmut D.404, Der blinde Knabe D.833b
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)

Frauenliebe und Leben, op. 42
Piotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

Songs (sung in Russian): None but the lonely heart, op. 6/5, Do not believe, my friend, op. 6/1, At the ball, op. 38/3
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)

Lieder: O liebí, so lang du lieben kannst! S.298, Die Lorelei S.273, Die stille Wasserrose S.321, Es muss ein Wunderbares sein S.314, Kling leise, mein Lied S.301
Dame Margaret Price (soprano), James Lockhart (pianoforte), Jack Brymer (clarinet)*
Locations: St. Dunstanís, Cheam, GB (Schubert), Barking Town Hall, GB (others)
Dates: April 1971 (Schubert), August 1973 (others)
EMI CLASSICS FOR PLEASURE 575 7732
[2 CDs: 47'13"+58'39"]

These records were made in the wake of Margaret Priceís initial meteoric rise to fame. A lot of her subsequent career took place in Germany and when British artists do that the British critics tend to "punish" them by firstly "discovering" that they werenít quite as good as we all thought and secondly by ignoring them. The same comment applies to James Lockhart, a prominent opera conductor in London at the time this disc was made.

Be that as it may, these two CDs contain some of the most beautiful singing you are likely to have heard. The Margaret Price miracle is that her voice has an almost contralto-like richness, which extends upwards effortlessly to the highest notes, maintaining all its warm effulgence. Test her in Du bist die Ruhí. This song contains a phrase, twice repeated, which goes up and up. It is a merciless exposure of the singerís breath control and stamina. All the performances I have on CD Ė and there are some very famous names among them Ė arrive at the highest note with some signs of strain, leaving me wondering why they didnít sing the song in a lower key. With Price the sound just gets more and more beautiful as it goes up (though in all honesty I must point out that she helps herself with an unmarked accelerando which most other singers donít allow). In the opera house she has been noted especially for her Mozart, and the other part of the Price miracle is that for all the opulent warmth of her voice, her technique and phrasing were kept sharp and agile. She has confessed that vocal chamber music was her first love from the beginning, even before opera, and there is none of the all-purpose heft which can be the result when an operatic heavyweight turns to Lieder. I enjoyed all the Schubert Ė a nice selection with some lesser-known pieces among the more famous ones Ė so completely that I felt no inclination to fish out comparisons, save only to remind myself that I have a special affection for Edith Wiensís unusual, rather elegiac performance of Heidenröslein (CBC MVCD 1053); Priceís performance is more mainstream but none the worse for that. Hunting around for the name of the clarinettist, I did find it among the small print inside the booklet, and what a name! EMI are doing themselves no favours by not putting Jack Brymer up there on the front cover with the other two, for any clarinettist would go out and buy the disc just for his contribution. Or shame on them if they didnít, for his shading and colouring are extraordinary. The three of them find a depth and range of feeling in Der Hirt auf dem Felsen which none of the other excellent versions I know quite conveys. Price and Lockhart have been a long-term partnership and the advantages of this are everywhere apparent. Furthermore, while it can be evident, when a conductor accompanies a singer, that he is a part-time pianist, Lockhart seems to combine the roles with a success that only Wolfgang Sawallisch has achieved in recent years. The evenness of his fingerwork in Die Forelle or Gretchen am Spinnrade is exemplary.

There hardly seems to be any need to go into detail over the second disc, except to say that it is on the same level. Some day it would be interesting to do a comparative review of the many recordings of Frauenliebe und Leben; suffice to say that this would be high on any list and for sheer vocal loveliness could hardly be surpassed. If you think you donít know any songs by Liszt youíll get a surprise when you play the first one, and if you detest the man because he wrote a tawdry old thing called Liebestraum no. 3 your surprise will be greater still! I mention as a talking-point rather than a criticism that the Tchaikovsky songs are interpreted in the western way, the voice containing in itself the seeds of consolation. If you compare "None but the lonely heart" with the version by Nadezhda Krasnaya in Volume 1 of Russian Discís complete survey (RD CD 11078) you wonít find such a beautiful voice or such perfect singing, but you will find a timbre which seems to incarnate that sense of total despondency that the Slavonic peoples evidently drink with their motherís milk.

The booklet notes are detailed and helpful, but there are no texts or translations. As I have said on other occasions, you can get an enormous range of material from www.recmusic.org/lieder, but I would also point out that, speaking as a practising musician with scores of 18 out of 28 songs on his shelves anyway, it still took me 20 minutes to search, download and print out the other ten. And of these ten, four were on the site (Iím writing on 29th October 2002, new additions appear almost daily) with original texts only, no translations. And not everybody who buys budget price CDs has access to Internet (all right, those people wonít be reading this review either, I know). This apart, everything is as perfect as is humanly possible and this has to be a bargain of the month.

Christopher Howell


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