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THE COMPLETE AKSEL SCHIØTZ RECORDINGS 1933-1946: Vol. 3
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)

Dichterliebe op. 48
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Die Mainacht op. 43/2, Sonntag op. 47/3, Ständchen op. 106/1
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)

Vær hilset, I Damer (Be greeted, ladies), op. 49/3, Foraarsregn (Spring rain) op. 49/6, En Digters sidste Sang (A Poet’s last song) op. 18/3
Carl Michael BELLMAN (1745-1795)

Käraste bröder, Gubben är gammal, Så lunka vi så småningom, Hör klockerna med ängsligt dånm Joachim uti Babylon, Vila vid denna källa
Dietrich BUXTEHUDE (1637-1707)

Aperite mihi portas justitiae
Aksel Schiøtz (tenor), Gerald Moore (piano) (Schumann, Brahms, Grieg), Ulrik Neumann (guitar) (Bellmann), Elsa Sigfuss (contralto), Holger Nørgaard (bass), Else Marie Braun, Julius Koppel (violins), Torben Anton Svendsen (cello), Mogens Wöldike (harpsichord) (Buxtehude)
Recorded in London, 8th January 1946 (Brahms, Grieg), 10th January 1946 (Schumann), Stockholm, May 9th 1946 (Bellmann), Copenhagen, May 22nd 1946 (Buxtehude)
Original HMV recordings transferred at the Abbey Road Studios by Andrew Walter
DANACORD DACOCD 453 [68:45]

 

Once again I refer readers to my review of Vol. 1 of this series for brief biographical notes on Aksel Schiøtz. Vol. 3 completes the series of recordings he made in London immediately after the war, accompanied by Gerald Moore and produced by Walter Legge.

Although only a few months had passed since the recording of Die schöne Müllerin, the voice has greater presence and the piano sound more bloom. It is really remarkably good for its age. The sheer luminous beauty and loving care of Moore’s playing would be an inspiration to any singer. Schiøtz impresses, as ever, for the ease of his delivery, the words and the vocal line apparently at one, and for the musicality of his phrasing. Ich grolle nicht is not rushed off its feet and there is everywhere the impression that the deepest consideration has been transformed into the purest feeling. I realise these are generalised words; it is so much easier to give chapter and verse when things are wrong. However, a previously unpublished version of this cycle with Folmer Jensen dating from 1942 is included in Vol. 8 so I hope to have the chance to make closer comparisons in due course, and perhaps to gain some inkling as to why this version seems so perfect.

The booklet prints Schiøtz’s own notes on performing the cycle, written in 1970. At times this sort of thing can be embarrassing – so many performers write one thing and do another. But Schiøtz practices what he preaches, and so his notes make an illuminating supplement to the performance itself. When the world is rather full of singers who think that a song really begins when they start singing and finishes with their last note, let us hear what Schiøtz has to say about the postlude: "The beautiful and expressive piano postlude recalls the mood of previous songs. It encompasses all the misery and poetic love of Dichterliebe. The singer should try to relive all the emotions he has been trying to express in these sixteen gems of song, and he should stand still while he listens, together with his audience, to the postlude".

I commented on the earlier discs that occasional hints – a few strained high notes – could be heard of the tumour that was growing in Schiøtz’s vocal chords. Although these 1946 recordings were made closer still to the operation which effectively ended his singing career, I have to say I found the voice in consistently good form. My other reservation, regarding his use from time to time of a downward portamento, is still present but worries me less in this more romantic music. So here is a precious document indeed.

Walter Legge had plenty of projects lined up for Schiøtz, including much Brahms, whose songs were very poorly represented in the catalogues then. Alas, all there was time for were these three; a wonderfully controlled Mainacht, pervaded by the calmness of the warm May night, an upfront, cholesterol-free Sonntag and a Ständchen which, though light and humorous, is not too fast to let us hear the words. And three more Grieg (5 from 1943 were included in Vol. 2). The two from op. 49 are wonderful songs, Grieg at his richest with piano parts that look ahead to Debussy. While in A Poet’s last song Schiøtz’s caressing rubato elevates a piece which could well sound four-square and banal.

Carl Michael Bellmann was a poet and composer (most of the melodies are actually folk tunes, and they all sound as if they are) whose low-life portraits may seem a musical equivalent of Hogarth’s work in London or the genre painting in nearby Holland. Whether his work is quite rich enough, judged purely as music, for a non-Swedish listener to take the trouble to study the translations (which are provided; Danacord as always give a lesson in presentation to certain major companies) and therefore appreciate the interaction of words and music, I rather doubt. Schiøtz must have been fond of them, for earlier versions of two of these pieces, and of several others, appear in Vol. 5. Even without knowing a word of Swedish I can detect the clarity of diction – speech-rhythm and musical rhythm seemingly as one – for which he was famed.

Considering how attractive Buxtehude can be, I thought this little cantata a relatively routine piece but, with Mogens Wöldike at the helm, it gets a performance which stylistically sounds fairly acceptable even today.

I hope I have made it clear that the lieder on this CD are absolutely essential listening for all who care about Schumann, Brahms and the singer’s art.

Christopher Howell



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