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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 8.111244 [77:48]

 


Naxos have already issued two volumes in this series with Lotte Lehmann’s Lieder recordings, (Vol.1 review; Vol. 2 review) and a fourth volume is due for release in June. I waxed lyrical about the first two and for the present one I am also full of admiration, even though it is more controversial.

About Frauenliebe und –Leben there need be no question-marks at all, since this is a cycle seen from the female’s point of view. Die-hard feminists may still frown upon the lack of equality but there is no denying the deeply felt and eloquently expressed poems by Adalbert von Chamisso. Schumann’s settings of them from the Lieder year 1840 are among his finest.

Lehmann’s voice in 1941 had aged slightly, showing occasional signs of shrillness, emphasised here by the close and very clear recording. On the other hand her voice had retained much of its bloom and there is warmth aplenty. Like one of the finest exponents of this cycle from the latter half of the 20th century, Brigitte Fassbaender, she sometimes sacrifices perfectionism for expressivity. She has the same array of expressive means, of colouring the voice, though Fassbaender can sometimes be even more naked. It is also a matter of basic tessitura: Fassbaender’s deep mezzo can more easily express the darker emotions of the songs, sometimes also wringing more sorrow from them by taking them extra slowly. Since the poems, generally speaking, move from light to darkness it is also instructive to compare timings. While Lehmann is marginally slower in the first three songs, she is markedly faster in the remaining five, indicating that Lehmann sticks to a kind of middle-of-the-road tempo, whereas Fassbaender’s more expressionist approach invites wider tempo differences. It could possibly be argued that Fassbaender digs deeper but Lehmann’s readings are certainly just as heartfelt. There is a nervous eagerness in Helft mir, ihr Schwestern that is touching and when she darkens the tone for the last song, deeply moving. Bruno Walter’s accompaniments can feel a little stiff, even heavy, but that may also be the recording which seems to have been made in rather dry acoustics.

Dichterliebe, the sixteen settings of Heine’s poems, was also composed in 1840 but here we are in male territory. At first it feels weird with a bright, light, girlish voice singing Im wunderschönen Monat Mai. It is however exquisitely sung and one soon gets used to the change of vocal perspective, especially when one realises that Lehmann peers just as deep into these songs as any tenor or baritone. I have listened innumerable times to Fischer-Dieskau and Gérard Souzay and was deeply impressed by Peter Schreier’s latest recording, issued in connection with his 70th birthday. I wasn’t prepared for a soprano being just as expressive. Intimate whispers like Wenn ich in deine Augen seh’ or Allnächtlich im Traume where time stands still are so deliciously vocalised. The big, outgoing songs like Im Rhein, im heiligen Strome, Ich grolle nicht and the concluding Die alten, bösen Lieder are impressive indeed. In some other instances I felt a little disappointed, as for example in the mercurial Die Rose, die Lilie which seems far too measured. Changing ideals perhaps or simply that Bruno Walter wasn’t fleet-fingered enough to manage a faster speed. I would urge hesitant readers, though, to scrap preconceptions and give this version a listen.

Not even Brigitte Fassbaender tried Dichterliebe, as far as I know. She did however sing and record Winterreise and quite a few women singers have done so. Lehmann wasn’t even the first; that honour goes to Elena Gerhardt, who also recorded some of the songs. Lehmann recorded eleven of them during her last session for Victor in 1940 (see vol. 2) and under her new contract with Columbia the following year she set down another nine, in both cases with her regular pianist Paul Ulanowsky. The Victor session mainly concentrated on the later songs while the Columbias mostly cover the earlier ones. As with the songs on vol. 2 it is deeply moving to hear the female voice changing the perspective of the songs, making them more frail. But Gefrorne Tränen becomes gripping through her use of almost contralto chest register. In Frühlingstraum with its quick changes between bright thoughts of Spring and the darker sides of the singer’s predicament she is masterly expressive and Paul Ulanowsky is also at his best here. In the last song, Der Leiermann, the chill of the singing and the grinding of the organ send ice shivers down the spine.

My admiration for Lotte Lehmann as a Lieder singer is not only undiminished – it has grown further. The close recording of the voice leaves almost no barrier between the singer and the listener but in this case lends the songs a rare intimacy.

Göran Forsling


 


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