This reissue of Elisabeth Schumann’s earliest recordings
is part of the Naxos ‘Great Singers’ Series. It’s been remastered
by Ward Marston, so sound quality is improved, while still retaining
that aura of antiquity that so vividly reminds us that we’re
listening to a fragment from the past. These recordings are
nearly a hundred years old. They are a window on a world which
no longer exists, a tantalizing glimpse into a whole experience
beyond most people’s living memory. Scratchy sound quality and
deeply recessed orchestration are a small price to pay: our
imagination can restore something of what it must have been
to have lived in those times and hear Schumann live.
The recordings here are taken from Schumann’s recording
series, for Edison Diamond and for Polydor . The Edison group date from 1915, during the First World War, when
Germany was still relatively unscathed by the famine
and social upheaval that was to come. Schumann sings one of
her trademark roles, Ännchen, from Der Freischütz, which she
was later to perfect in Vienna. The cover photo confirms that the freshness
and charm of her voice was also matched by her looks and costume.
Only one of her two recordings of Ambroise Thomas’s Mignon is
included, but it is the glorious Kennst du as Land.
She must have been a perfect Mignon, waif-like, childlike
and pure, yet capable of intense nobility of feeling.
The Polydor recordings are reproduced complete. Schumann
records, for the second time, the arias from Le Nozze de
Figaro, Neue Freuden and Ihr, die ihr Triebe des Herzens
kennt, which she had first recorded in 1913. How frustrating
that technology and performance practice at the time deprives
us of complete Schumann portraits, in different roles, at different
times in her career, and, in ensemble with her contemporaries.
Fortunately, we have here glimpses of Schumann’s Susanna as
well as her Cherubino, in Endlich naht sich die Stunde,
from 1923, and of her Zerlina and her Blonde, to tantalize us.
Her Exultate, Jubilate is of course exquisite, but her
strength as a singer of character roles must have been stunning.
What a pity film did not capture it.
It is hard to think of Schumann without also thinking
of Richard Strauss. They inspired and mutually shaped each others
work. Far from being conservative with repertoire, Schumann
actively sought out “modern” material to promote. She sang Mahler
and Křenek, for example, and actively promoted the lieder
of Otto Klemperer. Here we have just one Strauss song, Die
heiligen drei Könige aus Morgenland. It is an underrated
setting of Heine’s poem about the Three Kings from the East
searching for the baby Jesus. When they reach the cradle, the
ox bellows, the baby screams and the kings burst into song.
It’s a merry, unstuffy song to which Schumann brings great wit
see also Reviews
by Jonathan Woolf and Göran