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Carl LOEWE (1796-1869)
Lieder und Balladen: Complete Edition Vol. 17
Die Schwanenjungfrau op. 129/3, Am Klosterbrunnen op. 110/1, Blumenballade, Die verliebte Schäferin Scapine op. 9 H.IX/3, Der Mummelsee op. 116/3, Der Gesang op. 56/2, Der kleine Schiffer op. 127, Jungfräulein Annika op. 78/1, Die Göttin im Putzzimmer op. 73, Die Elfenkönigin op. 9 H.I/5, Wechsel, Menschenlose op. 103/2, Gulhinde am Putztische op. 10 H.II/5
Julie Kaufmann (soprano), Cord Garben (pianoforte)
Recorded 14th-16th October 1998, Kammermusikstudio, SWR-Stuttgart
CPO 999 415-2 [66’00"]


Carl Loewe was two months older than Schubert, but, of course, Schubert died so young and almost all the songs on this CD were written after Schubert’s death. One that wasn’t, Die Elfenkönigen of 1824 (by which year Schubert had produced many towering masterpieces) is described in the booklet as the work of "the young Loewe". However, this song is completely consistent in style with the later ones heard here, so it is not unreasonable to look upon the two composers’ outputs as a parallel development.

Indeed, had Schubert’s obscurity during his lifetime not been followed by a swift posthumous rise to undying fame, the history of the Lied may have taken a very different course. Though thoroughly classical and German-sounding in his harmonies and vocal lines, Loewe’s vocal lines are always ready to fly off into roulades and cadenzas and a degree of virtuoso coloratura such as we find very rarely indeed in Schubert (we find something similar in the last section of his song with clarinet obbligato, "The Shepherd on the Rock", for example), and which suggest that Loewe was also well-versed in contemporary Italian writing. The piano part frequently breaks into virtuoso semiquaver figuration reminiscent of such contemporary masters as Hummel. What this amounts to is obviously a very different concept of what a Lied (or a Ballade) should be. While it is true that on one level the Schubert Lieder present an inexhaustible challenge to musicians when it comes to breath-control, to the colouring of words and of the voice itself, it is nonetheless also true that on another level almost all of them are within the reach of the enthusiastic amateur who wishes to "have a go". Whereas the enthusiastic amateur who kept a volume of Loewe in his piano stool would probably make precious little inroads in it. It was to that same amateur that Schubert and the German Lied in general owed their currency in the days before discs or regular vocal recitals as we now know them.

The next generation of German composers based their conception of the Lied on Schubert, though Wolf must surely have admired Loewe. Schumann, Mendelssohn (even if Loewe’s Elfenkönigen sounds more like a Mendelssohnian fairy scherzo than anything Mendelssohn himself wrote for voice and piano) and subsequently Brahms were of that same generation. But what would have become of the Lied if Schubert’s work had remained unknown, or if discovery had been delayed another fifty years?

Writing a lot of notes, of course, can be the "easy option", covering over a message which is somewhat slender. Is Loewe sometimes guilty of this? Well, I did wonder when the Blumenballade, after an impressively spare and genuinely simple opening, breaks out into "Shepherd on the Rock"-like coloratura which verges on note-spinning. Nor does Gesang quite match the potentialities of the marvellous subject, however much it flurries around in an attempt to do so. And some of these ballads, notably Der kleine Schiffer, are tiresome in their repetitions, for all the vocal display on offer.

But it is in the nature of a "complete edition" that it will include pieces that, working on a more selective basis, one might have left to one side. With this in mind, it is actually remarkable how high the quality is. Dir verliebte Schäferin Scapine, to a text by Goethe, is brief and very much to the point, with entrancing piano writing for the piping shepherd and a very characterful, humorous middle section. The other Goethe setting here, Wechsel, is equally delightful and, again, succinct. These, together with the Mendelssohnian Elfenkönigen, would be highly welcome in any mixed Lieder recital. Nor is every ballad unduly long; Jungfräulein Annika is light, simple and wholly attractive. An unusual song is Die Göttin im Putzzimmer which, after a charmingly characterful, humorous opening assumes suitably joyful tones for the surprise ending which I won’t spoil for you now! I would also point out the unexpectedly broken vocal line of Am Klosterbrunnen as evidence that Loewe is very much his own man.

All this material would be nought if it fell into unimaginative hands. The American soprano Julie Kaufmann has a light but also rich and creamy voice which is a pleasure in itself while Cord Garben’s fleet fingerwork unfailingly finds the music in the piano parts. The difficulties of the writing are not just negotiated by both partners but evidently relished as well. The recording is excellent, the booklet notes are helpful and the texts are supplied with an English translation. A quick search through the Internet will provide you with details of the previous volumes in this series, which has by now involved some of the leading singers of our times (Andreas Schmidt, Kurt Moll, Iris Vermillion, Ruth Ziesak, Monica Groop and Christophe Prégardien are just some of them, all with the support of Cord Garben at the piano); you will find reviews of Volumes 14 and 15 on the site.

I wouldn’t recommend Loewe to somebody who has no Lieder by Schubert, Schumann, Brahms or Wolf, but if you are building up a Lieder collection then you should certainly get to know Loewe; in which case the present collection is as good a place to start as any.

Christopher Howell


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