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Soprano Duets
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Irmgard Seefried -
Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567–1643)
1. Io son pur vezzosetta pastorella [3:06]
2. Ardo scoprir [3:33]
3. Baci cari [3:07]
4. Dialogo di ninfa e pastore [4:08]
Giacomo CARISSIMI (1605–1674)
5. Detesta la cativa sorte in amore [4:10]
6. Lungi omai [2:31]
7. Il mio core [3:31]
8. A piè d’un verde alloro [3:10]
Antonin DVOŘÁK (1841–1904)
Moravian Duets, Op. 32, Nos. 1-13:
9. Ich schwimm’ dir davon [2:17]
10. Fliege, Vöglein [2:41]
11. Wenn die Sense [1:09]
12. Freundlich lass uns scheiden [1:00]
13. Der kleine Acker [1:04]
14. Die Taube auf dem Ahorn [1:21]
15. Wasser und Weinen [2:30]
16. Die Bescheidene [1:38]
17. Der Ring [2:07]
18. Grüne, du Gras! [3:12]
19. Die Gefangene [2:07]
20. Der Trost [3:23]
21. Wilde Rose [2:43]
Engelbert HUMPERDINCK (1854–1921)
Hansel und Gretel:
22. Suse, Liebe, Suse … Brüderchen, komm, tanz mit mir [9:38]
Richard STRAUSS (1864–1949)
Der Rosenkavalier:
23. Herrgott im Himmel! (Presentation of the Silver Rose) [11:26]
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Irmgard Seefried (soprano)
Gerald Moore (piano) (1-21), Philharmonia Orchestra/Josef Krips (22); Wiener Philharmoniker/Herbert von Karajan (23)
rec. No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London, 25-27 May, 1955 (1-21), 26-27 September, 1947 (22); Musikvereinsaal, Vienna, 9 December 1947
Texts and translations included


When the LP from which the greater portion of this disc derives was recorded in 1955 the so-called authentic movement, striving for historically correct performances of early music, was still in its infancy. True, August Wenzinger in Basle was an early stickler for authentic sounds - his recordings of the Brandenburg concertos were epoch-making. In his complete L’Orfeo he also insisted on authenticity as regards the instrumental parts. The singing was another matter. Good as many of the soloists are, not least the experienced Bach singer Helmut Krebs in the title role, there is still a feeling of later periods in much of it. That is also the impression one has when hearing the two superb sopranos on the present disc. They were greatly admired in their day for their Mozart singing and their Lieder interpretations – and still are. It is in this vein that they also tackle Monteverdi and Carissimi. The results are musically attractive. They are warm and nuanced and sing with careful attention to the texts. Moreover their voices match splendidly. The inauthentic piano is played by the ever-sensitive Gerald Moore with such lightness of touch that I initially thought it was a harpsichord, or at least a fortepiano. I can’t believe anyone hearing this recording for the first time, not knowing the music and with no special insight in authentic performance practice, will be anything but enthralled by the two ladies. Charm and communication were keywords in their artistic vocabulary and that is exactly what these performances radiate.

Going to representatives for the authentic camp for comparison can be instructive. However. I couldn’t find more than one item in my collection, but this was enough. It was the very first duet, Io son pur vezzosetta pastorella, in a recording from 1987 with Emma Kirkby and Evelyn Tubb. Playing the two versions in rapid succession showed clear differences. In opposition to warm and beautiful vibrato of Schwarzkopf and Seefried, Kirkby and Tubb sing with leaner voices, whiter if you like. There’s a minimum of vibrato and an even lighter touch. The effect can be startling. When the two older voices sing together the outcome can be illustrated by two sine curves intertwining, resulting in slightly muddled chords. When the straight voices meet the chords are absolutely clean. This also means that dissonance is also painfully dissonant, which listeners in Monteverdi’s time no doubt took for granted. Anthony Rooley’s lute with its frailer tone also makes a great difference. Let me just stress once more that the difference lies in approach, not quality.

The Dvořák duets are a quite different matter. Many composers in the 19th century wrote duets, notably, in the generation before Dvořák, both Schumann and Mendelssohn. That they are rarely heard has nothing to do with the quality of the music but the dearth of opportunities to perform them. Concert organizers are seldom willing to risk money on hiring two sopranos instead of one. And in the case of Dvořák this is a pity since the songs are endearing. Schwarzkopf and Seefried obviously felt that way since they lavish all their charm and interpretative skill on the duets. Heard all in a row they might be slightly monotonous – Dvorak’s fault, not that of the singers – but heard three or four at a time they are true delicatessen!

The two “fillers” are much more than that: two classics that should always be available and even those who don’t bother a brass farthing about Monteverdi, Carissimi and Dvořák should still contemplate a purchase of the disc for the sake of the Humperdinck and Strauss. Recorded in 1947 when Schwarzkopf was 32 and Seefried 28, they are here caught when they were at their freshest. Elisabeth Schwarzkopf’s voice was at that time almost soubrettish while Seefried from the outset of her career in the early 1940s had that almost mezzo-like darkish timbre. I may misuse the word but the only adjective in my vocabulary that seems suitable for the Hansel und Gretel duet is ‘endearing’, while ‘heavenly’ seems the adequate word for the presentation of the silver rose from Rosenkavalier. Both singers recorded the opera complete later on, Schwarzkopf with Karajan on HMV but then as Feldmarschallin, while Seefried remained Octavian more than a decade later on the Böhm recording for DG. Karajan is at the helm of the VPO here and the silvery string tone has a unique glow. When Schwarzkopf sails up high above the orchestra at Wie himmliche, nicht irdische, wir Rosen vom hochheiligen Paradies, this is definitely one of the most magical moments in the world of recorded opera.

The sound is impressive even in the 1947 items. As always with this admirable GROC series the documentation is impeccable with full texts and translation and an appreciation by John Steane. Go out and buy!

Göran Forsling




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