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Lotte Lehmann – Lieder Recordings: Vol. 3 (1941)
Robert SCHUMANN (1810–1856)
Frauenliebe und –Leben, Op. 42 (1840) [20:23]
Dichterliebe, Op. 48 (1840) [27:03]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797–1828)
Winterreise, D 911 (1827), excerpts [30:22]
No. 1 Gute Nacht [4:23]
No. 3 Gefrorne Tränen [2:49]
No. 4 Erstarrung [2:54]
No. 6 Wasserflut [3:25]
No. 10 Rast [4:07]
No. 11 Frühlingstraum [4:13]
No. 12 Einsamkeit [2:41]
No. 16 Letzte Hoffnung [2:26]
No. 24 Der Leiermann [3:20]
Lotte Lehmann (soprano)
Bruno Walter (piano) (Schumann); Paul Ulanowsky (piano) (Schubert)
rec. Los Angeles, 24 June 1941 (Frauenliebe); 13 August 1941 (Dichterliebe), 14, 19 March 1941 (Winterreise)
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.111244 [77:48]

The third volume in Naxos’s Lotte Lehmann lieder recording series brings us to the three cycles she recorded in Los Angeles during 1941, though here she recorded only extracts from Winterreise. Lehmann was still in generally fine voice and though it’s idle to pretend that she had emerged technically unscathed over the years – there’s some fraying at the top of her tessitura – of far more importance is the cultivation of expression that we hear throughout the cycles.

In a sense it would have been better for her to have been accompanied by someone other than Bruno Walter in the Schumann cycles. Inspirational he may have been but he was also leaden. Starting as early as Seit ich ihn geseh’n, the first of Frauenliebe und –Leben, we find in his playing a rather pedantic, often pedagogic heaviness that occasionally seems to inhibit tempi. Lehmann though employs a full range of expressive devices in her response to the texts – diminuendi and expressive rubato in Er der Herrlichste von Allen, the flourishing chest voice in Ich kann’s nicht fassen nicht glauben, constant shading and colour without impeding the naturalness of the declamation. The boxy recording doesn’t flatter her tonally and neither does it enhance Walter who’s especially exposed in Helft mir, ihr Schwestern. Regarding studio conditions I’m nevertheless happy that Mark Obert-Thorn has resisted the temptation slightly to cushion the sound through adding artificial reverberation. Colleagues of his would probably have done so in the same way that some have added reverb to the notoriously dry Parisian studios of the 1930s – but resistance to this temptation is the better solution as far as I’m concerned.

Dichterliebe was recorded almost six weeks after the sessions for Frauenliebe und –Leben. Again Walter, for all his insights, proves technically fallible. Beyond him Lehmann’s urgency of expression, her sensitive power and her acute awareness of the balance of weight and clarity lifts the performance to the heights. One senses Walter’s particular insights too but even in, say, Hor ich das Liedchen klingen, where his imagination is at its most acute we find that he’s unable to inflect with anything like the finesse of his partner. That relatively turgid quality hems in Lehmann from time to time – try Aus alten Marchen winkt es where her natural buoyancy of rhythm exists almost in parallel to his own circumscribed efforts.

Paul Ulanowsky may not have possessed Walter’s unerring ear for text and meaning but he was a better accompanist. The gradations of tone are more sympathetic; the natural rhythm of his playing is crisper. She’d earlier recorded eleven songs from Winterreise for Victor and this Columbia set of nine proves similarly inspired in interpretative stance. To take one single example amongst so many is invidious but listen to her use of fluid portamenti in Wasserflut and how she conveys textual subtleties through the most expressive of means. As before she employs the full range of voice, from a slightly strident top to the kind of chest voice she employed so freely in Frauenliebe und –Leben. And as before the freedom of her declamation and the frequent use of ritenuti and other such devices gives her performance a powerfully personalised stamp. In the face of this both here and in Dichterliebe the voice type and sex of the singer is rendered if not irrelevant at least of marginal significance.

As noted Obert-Thorn’s work here is respectful of the originals and allows one to hear Lehmann in the full flood of her intensely communicative and overwhelmingly passionate maturity.

Jonathan Woolf

see also Review by Göran Forsling



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