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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Die Allmacht D852* [5:41]
Fischerweise D881* [3:54]
Der Hirt auf dem Felsen D965 ** [11:32]
An die Musik D547 [2:44]
Der Musensohn D764 [2:25]
Ganymed D544 [4:17]
Auf demWasser zu singen D774 [4:31]
Ellens Gesang III ('Ave Maria') D839 [7:25]
Die Forelle D550 [1:59]
Gretchen am Spinnrade D118 [3:13]
Fruhlingsglaube D686 [3:41]
Der Tod und das Madchen D531 [2:48]
Lachen und Weinen D777 [1:54]
Litanei auf das Fest Allerseelen D343 [5:54]
Erlkonig D328 [3:58]
Christa Ludwig (mezzo); Geoffrey Parsons (piano) ;*Gerald Moore (piano); **Gervase de Peyer (clarinet)
rec. No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London *11, 13, 14, 17, 20 November 1957; ** 8 November 1965; 28-30 November 1961. ADD
EMI GREAT RECORDINGS OF THE CENTURY 7243 5 62896 2 8 [66:10]

Most of the items here were first released as one LP, the exceptions being the first three tracks, added for this CD release. The two oldest items comprise a majestic, imposing performance of Die Allmacht, which is powerfully projected and in which the expressive and dynamic range of Christa Ludwig's singing make a strong impression. The companion piece from the same sessions, Fischerweise, finds her lightening her voice appropriately and offering a witty performance.

Then comes Schubert's last song, indeed, his very last composition, the great scena that is Der Hirt auf dem Felsen. This is a performance graced and enhanced by the playing, at first mellifluous and later agile, of clarinettist, Gervase de Peyer. Noting that Christa Ludwig is a mezzo I had expected to find that the song had been transposed down but, as John Steane points out in his characteristically graceful and perceptive liner note, she preserves the original high key. The tessitura proves no problem for her, though. There's an interesting parallel here, again pointed out by Steane, in that the song was written for Anna Milder, who created the role of Leonore in Beethoven's Fidelio. Three years before this present recording was made Christa Ludwig, though a mezzo, gave what I have long considered a superb performance as Leonore in Otto Klemperer's celebrated EMI recording of Beethoven's opera. She is no less successful in Schubert's mini-drama. The song ideally requires dramatic range and power as well as delicacy and in these respects Miss Ludwig proves more than equal to the task. Personally I rather prefer the somewhat lighter tone of a soprano, such as the late-lamented Arleen Auger in her magnificent reading for Hyperion. However, there's no denying the wonderful expressiveness Ludwig brings to the song, above all in the minor key central section. Throughout the performance the richness of her voice and the range of colouring she employs give deep satisfaction. All in all, this is a pretty marvellous reading.

The remainder of the programme is well chosen to show off the versatility of this fine singer in a variety of favourite Schubert lieder. So she conveys joyful gaiety in Der Musensohn, while An die Musik is dignified and affectionate. This latter song offers but one of several examples of her ability to spin a seamless line of rich tone. The celebrated 'Ave Maria' is another offering in which she shows herself to be a mistress of line. Her performance is deeply committed. Some listeners may prefer, as I do, a touch more simplicity in this song but it can't be denied that this is superb singing.

Gretchen am Spinnrade is given with tremendous power and drama, Geoffrey Parsons proving to be a splendidly vivid partner, here as elsewhere. The song is built to a huge, but not overdone, climax at the words "und ach, sein Kuss!" In a most effective contrast Fruhlingsglaube is placed next and Parsons plays the introduction with a disarming simplicity that is immediately picked up and echoed by Ludwig when she starts to sing. This is truly art concealing art.

We hear also a most intense and involving performance of Der Tod und das Madchen. In his note John Steane quotes the original review of the LP by Alec Robertson, who wrote of Ludwig's performance of this song: "I have longed for an interpretation like this for years, and here it is". And he drew attention to the singer's delivery of "the calm and deep utterances of Death, ending in an almost inaudible whisper". Listening to the recording now over forty years later it seems to me to have lost none of the lustre that so moved Robertson - and, in passing, one doubts that such an eloquent review would grace the pages of Gramophone these days.

For me, the best of all is saved for last. The final pair of songs crowns this recital. First we hear Litanei in a performance of great inwardness. This is a quite superb performance of great poise and understanding. And then comes a hair-raising account of Erlkonig, driven onwards inexorably by Geoffrey Parsons' accompaniment. We are reminded here of Christa Ludwig's prowess on the operatic stage for this is a searingly dramatic reading. I particularly relished the insinuating tone in which she delivers the words of the Erl King himself. It's a bitingly effective end to a superb recital.

Throughout the recital there isn't a single ugly or unconsidered note to be heard. This disc offers superb, insightful singing from start to finish and it will be self-recommending to aficionados of fine singing. At a time when the way record companies present recordings is often open to criticism it's a pleasure to report that EMI's documentation is excellent. The full German texts are printed with translations into English and French and John Steane's excellent note is also given in all three languages. The very good recorded sound sets the seal on a most distinguished issue.

John Quinn

EMI Great Recordings of the Century page


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