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,