EMI’s prestigious ‘Great Recordings of the Century’
series has featured a host of celebrated conductors, singers and
instrumental virtuosi. Why, you may think, should an issue pay
tribute to a "mere" accompanist? However, as I pointed
out recently when comparing two recordings by Hans Hotter of Schubert’s
Winterreise, a perceptive accompanist can make all the
difference. In that instance, the perspicacious accompanist whose
contribution to one of the two versions made it a clear winner,
was Gerald Moore, the musician celebrated here.
It was Gerald Moore (1899-1987) who did more
than anyone else to bring the accompanist out of the shadows and
to establish his or her role in its proper place as a true partner
of the recitalist. Graham Johnson is just one distinguished successor
to have acknowledged his debt to Moore.
The present release assembles two handsome tributes
which EMI paid to Moore. The whole of CD1 and the first four tracks
of CD2 contain (for the first time in its entirety on CD, I believe)
the farewell recital he gave at the Royal Festival Hall in 1967,
an event masterminded by that doyen of programme building, Walter
Legge, no less. The remaining 15 tracks on CD2 are taken from
a studio-made LP issued in 1970 to celebrate Moore’s 70th
birthday. I believe that these items too appear on CD for the
first time. The Farewell Recital has been on CD at least once
before (as "Gerald Moore, a Tribute" on CDC 7 49238
2). However that issue was incomplete as five items had to be
excluded. I have marked these five with an asterisk in the heading
to this review and I suspect they may now be making their CD debut.
To the surprise of many Moore chose to retire
from the concert platform (though not from the recording studio)
at the age of sixty-seven. Walter Legge devised this retirement
tribute, uniting Moore for one last time with his three very favourite
soloists. As John Steane tells us in the liner notes, the concert
became, perhaps inevitably, a musical party and purchasers of
this release should approach it on those terms.
With typically adroit planning, Legge allotted
each singer a solo group and each also participated in duets.
Thus we have Fischer-Dieskau magnificent in Schubert, de los Angeles
equally impressive in Brahms and Schwarzkopf singing Wolf as only
she could. They also combine in various partnerships. So we get
the two ladies in Rossini (including the rather tiresome "Cat’s
Duet", a piece which I feel only works, and then not always,
as a pièce d’occasion in concerts when one can actually
see the artists.) Schwarzkopf and Fischer-Dieskau combine
memorably in Schumann and the baritone partners de los Angeles
in the Mendelssohn group. The programme opens and closes with
trios by Mozart and Haydn. Almost any admirer of these
singers will wonder at the list of omissions. Why no Strauss from
either Fischer-Dieskau or Schwarzkopf? Why no French or Spanish
repertory from that great exponent of both, de los Angeles? The
second disc partly rights that, and the exclusion of Strauss.
Legge could have assembled a programme to reflect even more fully
the mastery of these four artists, but only if the RFH
had been willing to serve breakfast the next morning! What we
have here is sufficient unto the day, I think.
In a review such as this it’s impossible to do
justice to such a cornucopia of song. A few highlights must suffice.
Fischer-Dieskau’s Schubert group will give much pleasure but ‘Im
Abendrot’ (CD1, track 6) is an outstanding example of controlled,
sustained singing. De los Angeles is enchanting in Brahms’s ‘Der
Gang zum Liebchen’ (CD1, track 11) and deeply communicative in
the same composer’s ‘Sapphische Ode’ (track 10). As for Schwarzkopf,
she reserves her best for ‘Kennst du das Land?’ (CD1, track 17),
a song which she always sang like no-one else. She must have sung
this countless times with Moore; is it fanciful to detect an extra
edge to the performance of this song of longing, sparked by the
knowledge that this would be their last performance of it together,
at least in public? I would also single out the delightful blend
of de los Angeles and Fischer-Dieskau in ‘Ich wollt meine Lieb’
(CD1, track 21); indeed, their whole Mendelssohn group is beautifully
Each singer was clearly fired by the occasion.
All were highly individual artists and the approach of both Schwarzkopf
and Fischer-Dieskau could sometimes be controversial. However,
here the presence of an audience and their desire to pay tribute
to a much-loved and highly valued colleague inspires them to take
artistic risks which they might not have done under studio conditions.
Their risk-taking is vindicated.
At the end of the proceedings Moore’s short speech
is elegant and from the heart. He then brings down the curtain
on his concert hall career inimitably by playing, just for once,
by himself. The choice? Music by his beloved Schubert in the shape
of his own arrangement of ‘An die Musik’. Happily, applause has
been edited out after this item.
There is an abundance of delights, too, among
the studio recordings, almost all of which were made especially
for the occasion. It is wonderful to hear de los Angeles sounding
incomparable in two Spanish songs (CD2, tracks 5 and 6). Incidentally,
a live performance of the Nín song is also included in
her recently issued BBC Legends disc where, again, she is partnered
by Moore. It’s also highly appropriate that Janet Baker, a singer
greatly admired by Moore, should make an appearance in two fine
items by Mahler (CD2, tracks 11 and 12). Schwarzkopf was not available
to record anything for this collection. Instead EMI took from
its vaults a wondrous, incandescent account of Wagner’s ‘Träume’
(CD2, track 14). There’s also a notable contribution from Nicolai
Gedda who sings two Tchaikovsky items. The first, ‘Don Juan’s
Serenade’ (CD2, track 17) is dashing and ringing but ’Amid the
din of the ball’ (track 18), a subtle, withdrawn performance,
really is something very special.
I haven’t mentioned the instrumentalists. Leon
Goossens is splendidly fluent and articulate in Bach (CD2, track
7) and Gervase de Peyer despatches the Weber variations with relish
and élan (CD2, track 10). For many, however, the pick of
this particular bunch will be Jacqueline du Pré, whose
lustrous tone graces Fauré’s sublime Élégie,
making it even more a thing of beauty than is usual (CD2,
I must comment on the recorded sound. The studio
items are, without exception, first class. The RFH recording may
be a bit more controversial. The artists are recorded at a slight
distance, something to which I found I adjusted quite quickly.
However, it sounds as if the microphones were placed in or over
the first few rows of the stalls. The consequence is that the
applause, which follows every item, is very loud. You have been
Sometimes in my reviews I’ve been critical of
the accompanying documentation. Not this time. In fact, EMI have
done Moore proud. All texts and translations are given in English,
French and German (and the texts for the items in Russian and
Spanish are also given in the original). There are also an unusually
copious number of pictures of the artists. Finally, there is an
affectionate and perceptive note by John Steane. This is written
in his usual elegant and informed style so that the reading of
the note is a pleasure in itself.
This issue features a large roster of distinguished
musicians. Underpinning everything, however, is the artistry of
one man. Every single track bears eloquent testimony to the art
of Gerald Moore which was, of course, an art which concealed art.
Time and again we find him illuminating little details but never
to draw attention to himself. Always, rather, his aim is to enhance
the performance of his soloists and to serve the music better.
In particular he was a master of subtle rubato. As I put the finishing
touches to this review I’m listening yet again to ‘Träume’.
The accompaniment is by no means the most complex on this pair
of CDs. In fact for quite a lot of the time he "just"
supports the singer’s line with repeated, throbbing chords. Yet,
listen carefully. Each one is precisely weighted and every bar
evinces his master’s touch, not least in the tiny hesitations
which, in themselves are such small things but which add immeasurably
to our pleasure. Listen also to how he seems to breathe with his
singer. What support! And how confident must it have made those
soloists lucky enough to have been partnered by him.
This may not be a "Great Recording of the
Century" in the sense that, say Furtwängler’s 1951 Bayreuth
performance of Beethoven’s ‘Ninth’ is understood to be. However,
this pair of discs fully justifies their inclusion in this series
in celebration of a man who contributed so unobtrusively yet so
tellingly to so many great recordings and performances during
his career. This set contains nearly 2½ hours of pure pleasure.
I welcome it with great delight and recommend it most strongly.
See Great Recordings
of the Century