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Elisabeth Schumann - Early Recordings 1915–1923
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770–1827)
Fidelio: O, wär ich schon mit dir vereint;
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786–1826)
Der Freischütz: Trübe Augen, Liebchen; Kommt ein schlanker Bursch gegangen;
Ambroise THOMAS (1811–1896)
Connais-tu le pays?;
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756–1791) Le nozze di Figaro: Non so più; Voi che sapete; Don Giovanni: Vedrai, carino;
Albert LORTZING (1801–1851) Der Wildschütz: Auf des Lebens raschen Wogen;
Charles GOUNOD (1818–1893) Faust: Air des bijoux;
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART Die Entführung aus dem Serail: Durch Zärtlichkeit und Schmeicheln; Welche Wonne, welche Lust; Don Giovanni: Batti, batti, o bel Masetto;
François AUBER (1782–1871) Fra Diavolo: Quel bonheur;
Engelbert HUMPERDINCK (1854–1921) Hänsel und Gretel: Wo bin ich? Wach ich? Ist es ein Traum?;
Richard STRAUSS (1864–1949) Die heiligen drei Könige aus Morgenland;
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART Exultate, Jubilate: Allegro; Andante; Alleluia; Le nozze di Figaro: Deh vieni, non tardar; Die Zauberflöte: Ach, ich fühl’s, es ist verschwunden;
Elisabeth Schumann (soprano) with orchestra
rec. 1915 (tracks 1-4), 1920 (tracks 5-14), 1922 (tracks 15-18) and 1923 (tracks 19-20)
Producer and Audio Restoration Engineer: Ward Marston
NAXOS 8.111098 [77:10]

The list of migrations from Romophone, now sadly no more, continues with this example of rare early Elisabeth Schumann. One says early but not quite the earliest – the 1913 Favorites are not here though collectors will doubtless have them elsewhere. The sequence therefore begins with four sides she made for Edison in 1915 and continues with the Polydors made on the cessation of hostilities after the First World War. This takes us to the 1923 late acoustics. All are sung in German with the exception of the Mozart Exultate, Jubilate.
The Edisons were rather recessive recordings but fortunately of good repertoire; other musicians were not so fortunate. The catalogue of trifles recorded for the company has long been a source of despair for aficionados, as has Edison’s own low-brow tastes. There’s great freshness especially in the two Weber extracts, full of girlish and lissom wit and insouciant authority, even in one so relatively young. The German Polydors are better recorded and actually offer a more rounded view of her at this stage in her career. The sequence includes Mozart, naturally, but also Gounod, Auber, Lortzing, Humperdinck and Richard Strauss.
In the Thomas Mignon we can hear her pervasive upward portamento and a touch too much vibrato usage in the middle of the voice. Here and throughout she makes do with a rather brass-bandy accompaniment though it can’t efface her superb Non so più with its delicate slowings down, delicious shading and prominently rolled “r.” In   Voi che sapete she adheres pretty much to the standard mid to nineteenth century practice of accelerando-ritenuto-portamento into the first verse reprise – see Piatti’s and Melba’s recordings for this precedent on disc. Her silvery beauty of tone and effervescent musicality carries her through even this rather conventional schema.
The Lortzing extract is quick, dramatic and theatrically convincing – quick electric trill and high notes are all in situ. In the Humperdinck her coloratura is tested and survives unscathed. Articulation is rapid, characterisation is impressive and convincing, girlish impersonation is still possible even in her early to mid thirties; and the tone can be crystalline when required. There’s an excellent souvenir of her many performances with Richard Strauss, her accompanist on tours and more cherishable Mozart.
All these sides bear residual surface noise but Ward Marston has resisted the temptation to damp down treble. The result is that the ear adjusts within a few minutes, if not less and one can savour the beauty of Schumann’s tone unimpeded. A fine collection of a soprano at the start of an auspicious career.

Jonathan Woolf
See also review by Göran Forsling




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