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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Lieder:

Ridente la calma, K. 152, Oiseaux, si tous les ans, K. 307, Dans un bois solitaire, K. 308, Die kleine Spinnerin, K. 531, Als Luise die Briefe, K. 520, Abendempfindung, K. 523, Das Kinderspiel, K. 598, Die Alte, K. 517, Das Traumbild, K. 530, Das Veilchen, K. 476, Der Zauberer, K. 472, Im Frühlingsanfang, K. 597, Das Lied der Trennung, K. 519, Die Zufriedenheit, K. 349, An Chloe, K. 524, Sehnsucht nach dem Frühling, K. 596
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (soprano), Walter Gieseking (pianoforte)
Recorded 13, 14, 16 April 1955, No. 1A Studio, Abbey Road, London
Concert Arias:

Chíio mi scordi di te? K. 505*, Vado, ma dove? K. 583, Alma grande e nobil core, K. 578, Nehmt meinen Dank, K. 383
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (soprano), Alfred Brendel (pianoforte)*, London Symphony
Orchestra/George Szell
Recorded 10. 11. 14. 18 Sep. 1968, Kingsway Hall, London
EMI CLASSICS CDZ 5 74803 2 [70.49]
Superbudget

For those who do not know Mozartís writing for voice and piano, these are not really lieder since the lied was not yet invented. A few, such as "Als Luise die Briefe", appear to be operatic scenas in embryo, and just a very few, famously "Das Veilchen" (to a text by Goethe) but also "Abendempfindung" and "Das Lied der Trennung" rise to be genuine lieder, sowing the seeds for the great development that was to begin with Schubert. The Italian song here, "Ridente la calma", is Mozartís revision of a work by Myslivecek (but it is a good piece); most of them are simple strophic creations intended for the blandest of domestic environments. Or so they are apt to seem when we do not have Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Walter Gieseking to perform them for us.

In 1955 Schwarzkopfís voice was at its freshest, her art relatively untrammelled by mannerism. For those who do not respond to her, her timbre retains always a certain asperity, it has something of the soubrette to it, if the most even-toned, perfectly controlled soubrette ever. The very clarity of her words tends to make her sound like everybodyís perfect Fräulein.

And yet thereís so much more to it than that. Schwarzkopf didnít fascinate generations of listeners for nothing, and often with a singer (as also with Callas in her very different repertoire) itís the idiosyncrasies, the things that are apparently "wrong" and would be wrong if other people did them, that mean you can never take your ears off her. Listen to the word "zeigen" in the last verse of "Das Lied der Trennung". Conventional wisdom has it that you sing the "e" of the second syllable for the full note value, then you gently close with the "n", because you canít sing on an "n", you can only sing on a vowel, and you sing on the "n" only in light music (hence the soubrettish effect). Well, she does it and it sounds lovely! The same thing with "gesundes" in "Die Zufriedenheit". They teach that you sing on the "u" and use the "n" at the end of the note as a stepping-stone to tie over to the "des". She sings on the "n". She does not do these things all the time; but she keeps you guessing. And also that "evenness" which I referred to above; sometimes she seems quite deliberately not to pass evenly from one register to another. But, control, yes, everything is controlled with an iron will.

As an analysis of exactly why Schwarzkopf retained such a hold over her audiences, these are no more than a few preliminary comments; I hope some future disc will enable me to go further. Even if you donít agree, you must be impressed by the way in which she can suddenly deepen her tone when a song suggests rather more emotion than usual Ė notably "Abendempfindung", but also "Dans un bois" Ė and by her subtle but, to my ears wholly unexaggerated, variations of tone between the stanzas of the strophic songs.

The other marvel is Gieseking. When he played Debussy and Ravel, he was one of the subtlest colourists and one of the most sophisticated pedallers ever. I could swear that on this disc he doesnít touch the sustaining pedal from end to end! Now the truth is that weíve all become so used to the sound of, say, an Alberti bass "warmed up" with the pedal that playing for long stretches without the pedal almost scares the pants off us. So listen to a real master and hear how the simplest of quaver accompaniments can become a thing of melodic and contrapuntal beauty, listen to him seemingly improvising broken chords around the singerís line in "Abendempfindung", hear how he take the accompaniment of a strophic song which is so simple that a lesser artist might have tartly told the singer "you donít need me to play this for you!" and then vary the colours in response to the shades of the singer herself.

The arias from 1968 were the reliving of a famous partnership Ė Schwarzkopf and Szell had recorded Straussís Four Last Songs in Berlin some years earlier and it had been immediately recognised as one of her finest recorded performances. By this time her voice was somewhat rounder and fuller, and the sheer beauty of, in particular, "Vado, ma dove?", is unsurpassable. Yet I have to say that when she sang "Nehmt meinen Dank" ten years earlier in Naples under the sprightly, almost perky, baton of the little-known but thoroughly capable Ugo Rapalo, the effect was altogether fresher. And in 1961 she was in Naples again, singing "Chíio mi scordi di te" under the no-nonsense but far from insensitive Carlo Franci. The opening offers a striking contrast indeed. She and Szell milk this recitative for all the juice it contains, but is the result in the not just plain lethargic? Compare the two versions at any point and going to the Naples one is like cleaning your ears out. However, I think the difference is not so much between earlier and later Schwarzkopf, itís just that Szell was in one of his Uncle George moods and weighed on the proceedings like a ton of bricks. Still, if you donít have other Schwarzkopf versions to compare them with, these will do very well, and the songs with Gieseking are classics of the gramophone that everyone must have.

Incredibly, given EMIís recent track record, we get texts and translations. There is a very worthwhile note by John Steane Ė so worthwhile that I almost wondered if there was any point in writing anything further myself. This has been translated into German but the French public require special treatment and for them a note by André Tubeuf has been provided which tells us that, prior to this recording, Schwarzkopf and Gieseking had never worked together, had never even met. Then, on the next page, we have a photograph of the two together at La Scala two years earlier. Ah well, you canít get íem all right, I suppose.

Christopher Howell


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