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The Art of Christa Ludwig
see end of review for track and peformance details
rec. 1956–1969
EMI CLASSICS ICON 5176082 [5 CDs: 387:44]
Experience Classicsonline

When Christa Ludwig celebrated her 80th birthday on 16 March 2008 she could look back on an uncommonly long and successful career as opera singer as well as recitalist. She was born in Berlin and both her parents were opera singers. It was her mother, mezzo-soprano Eugenie Besalla-Ludwig, who was her first voice teacher. She was only eighteen when she made her operatic debut in Frankfurt in 1946, singing Orlovsky in Die Fledermaus. After stints in Darmstadt and Hannover she arrived at the Vienna Staatsoper in 1955 and there she remained for more than thirty years. She appeared frequently at other houses as well: Chicago, the Met, Covent Garden and for many seasons at the Salzburg Festival and also in Bayreuth. She withdrew in 1994 and her last public performance as opera singer was as Klytemnestra in Elektra at the Staatsoper. When her voice matured she took on heavier roles and also sang some soprano parts: die Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier and Leonore in Fidelio, to mention two, which she also recorded in complete studio recordings under Bernstein and Klemperer respectively. Admirers of her art should know that there are copious opportunities to hear her in complete operas: 130 recordings – live or studio – are listed in her discography, spanning from a 1948 broadcast of Il barbiere di Siviglia from Hessischen Rundfunk, where she sings Berta, to Colin Davis’s Philips recording in Dresden 1992 of Hänsel und Gretel.
 
The present brimful box is EMI’s tribute to her celebrations and it covers roughly her first dozen years as a commercial recording artist. The main bulk is drawn from her song recordings, deriving primarily from sessions with Gerald Moore in 1957 and 1959 and sundry sessions with Geoffrey Parsons from the 1960s. In some of the earliest ones it is possible to detect some slight unsteadiness and also a tone that can be hollow-sounding. Sapphische Ode, the very first song, lacks the last ounce in refinement but this is very much an exception. Of the four Brahms songs from that period Die Mainacht is the most masterful while the rarely heard Der Schmied is an interesting piece with its staccato accompaniment. But it is the Brahms recital with Parsons from 1969 that shows her in the best possible light. There she catches the different moods of the songs with superb accuracy, whether it be the light touch of Das Mädchen spricht, the dark and penetrating Der Tod, das ist die kühle Nacht or the inward beauty of In stiller Nacht. Every song has something illuminating to offer and I know of few Brahms records that are more satisfying. The pick of the crop is possibly Immer leiser wird mein Schlummer. Among Brahms’s finest songs are the two with viola Op. 91 and here she applies a darker contralto tone, reminiscent of Kathleen Ferrier, whose recordings of them are unforgettable. Christa Ludwig is on the same exalted level and that also goes for the Alto Rhapsody with Klemperer conducting.
 
The Mahler songs on CD 2 are also invariably masterly; she sounds so complete, so mature that it is hard to believe that this is a singer not yet 30. The freshness of Ich ging mit Lust, the lively story-telling of Hans und Grethe, the eyes-wide-open wonder-feeling of Frühlingsmorgen, the light humour of Um schlimme Kinder or the glorious heroic tone of Das Schildwache Nachtlied. Of the Mörike songs Um Mitternacht grows with almost unbearable intensity and the most naked song Mahler ever wrote, Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen, is devoid of everything glamorous. Either of Janet Baker’s recordings is hard to beat, but she sings them with orchestra and the sparse piano version becomes even more intimate. Schumann’s Frauenliebe und-leben is also superbly sung with wonderful care for the words. The two Reger songs are fine reminders of his melodic gift, often overshadowed by his learned contrapuntal writing.
 
On CD 3 we encounter the Schubert interpreter and again I find Ludwig’s early recording of Die Allmacht less than perfect. The lyrical moments are wonderful but this is also one of Schubert’s grandest songs and here she seems a little undersized. But the light and bouncy Fischerweise is sung with freshness and joy and the 1961 recital with Geoffrey Parsons finds her challenging the very best of Schubert interpreters: the phrasing, the colouring of the tone, the expressiveness and her ability to lay bare the core of each song combine to make this a most satisfying programme. Rarely if ever has Ave Maria been sung with greater feeling and more beautiful tone. Every song is a consummate masterpiece of sensitive singing and she crowns the programme with a lovely reading of Der Hirt auf dem Felsen, sung with silvery tone in a fine collaboration with Gervase de Peyer’s smooth clarinet. She is well suited to Hugo Wolf, where Gerald Moore is at his most sensitive in the filigree accompaniment to Auf einer Wanderung and the Strauss songs are all superb.
 
On the fourth disc she turns out to be at home also in the French repertoire. In the Ravel cycle she is especially successful in the bleak second song. Saint-Saëns’s Une flûte invisible is beautiful – and beautifully sung. Rachmaninov’s slightly perfumed songs can be very winning when performed with such conviction as here. The Rossini songs are charming trifles. Wagner’s Wesendonck-Lieder are masterpieces that require both voice and insight; more deeply probing readings are not easy to come by, Klemperer again a magisterial accompanist.
 
A couple of opera excerpts have spilled over from CD 5. Christa Ludwig is a light and sprightly Dorabella in this legendary Così conducted by Karl Böhm. She recorded the role for Decca seven years earlier, also with Böhm in what was her first studio recording of an opera. She was very good then but is inevitably more mature and brings deeper insight here. She also sings nobly in the aria from Handel’s Giulio Cesare (in German) but the accompaniment isn’t exactly in accordance with the performance practice we expect today.
 
She was a noted Bach singer and while neither Karl Forster nor Otto Klemperer was very informed about period performance style the singing is unerringly sensitive and noble. Erbarme dich, mein Gott with true contralto depth is magnificent.
 
This Klemperer set is one of the legendary recordings of all time and so are the two opening tracks on the last CD. Giulini’s Verdi Requiem has for many years headed the list of recordings and even though I have versions with more idiomatically Italianate soloists Christa Ludwig’s reading of the alto part is as good as any I have heard. Klemperer’s Das Lied von der Erde was the first seriously to challenge Bruno Walter’s and I still count this as the best ever. Christa Ludwig is again the noblest singer imaginable and it is generous of EMI to give us the full 30 minutes of Der Abschied. On the other hand they could have chosen a shorter movement instead to leave more room for excerpts from other operas that also exist in the company’s vaults. The complete Das Lied von der Erde, with Fritz Wunderlich an ideal tenor soloist, should be in every collection anyway.
 
The duet from Norma is instructive to listen to. Christa Ludwig is light of tone, absolutely steady and youthful whereas Maria Callas this late in her career is darker, older-sounding and unpleasantly wobbly which affects the passages when they sing in consort. But dramatically it is right since Adalgisa in the opera should be the younger woman.
 
The Seguidilla is from a complete recording of Carmen from 1961, which also boasts Rudolf Schock as a rather wooden and strained Don José. In other roles, though not heard here, we can find the young Hermann Prey as Escamillo and Ivan Rebroff as Zuniga. It has been available on CD but I don’t know if it still is. Anyway Christa Ludwig is a seductive Carmen, who audibly twists Don José round her little finger. Isoldes Liebestod is one of two examples of her venturing into soprano territory – the other is Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni. She sang neither of the roles on stage but the Elvira aria is from Klemperer’s complete recording where Nicolai Ghiaurov’s dark-hued presence needed a counterpart of similar stature. She is superb in both roles.
 
Finally we get the last twenty minutes of another legendary set, Herbert von Karajan’s Der Rosenkavalier with Christa Ludwig as the teenaged Octavian. Elisabeth Schwarzkopf’s Feldmarschallin was arguably her supreme role – I remember very clearly the film from Salzburg 1960 but there Sena Jurinac was Octavian. Ludwig and Schwarzkopf are marvellously well matched here and Teresa Stich-Randall’s Sophie is also good though her tone up-high is a bit too edgy for my taste.
 
The sound on some of the early Lieder recordings isn’t as sophisticated as one would wish. I suppose that it is the digital remastering from 1991 that is to blame. On my equipment there was sometimes a metallic upper layer that was somewhat irritating – but not enough to reduce the impact of the singing.
 
Who was the greatest mezzo-soprano during the post-war years? I think it is impossible to give an unequivocal answer but Christa Ludwig is definitely in the final tournament and this box is a worthy tribute to her art during the first third of her career. It should be snapped up by all lovers of great singing.
 
Göran Forsling

Track & performer details
CD 1
Johannes BRAHMS (1833–1897)
1. Sapphische Ode, Op. 94 No. 4 [2:30]
2. Liebestreu, Op. 3 No. 1 [2:15]
3. Der Schmied, Op. 19 No. 4 [1:22]
4. Die Mainacht, Op. 43 No. 2 [3:51]
5. Dein blaues Auge, Op. 59 No. 8 [2:03]
6. Von ewiger Liebe, Op. 43 No. 1 [4:22]
7. Das Mädchen spricht, Op. 107 No. 3 [1:24]
8. O wüßt’ ich doch, Op. 63 No. 8 [3:42]
9. Wie Melodien zieht es mir, Op. 105 No. 1 [2:04]
10. Mädchenlied, Op. 107 No. 5 [1:41]
11. Vergebliches Ständchen, Op. 84 No. 4 [1:47]
12. Der Tod, das ist die kühle Nacht, Op. 96 No. 1 [2:33]
13. Auf dem See, Op. 59 No. 2 [3:03]
14. Feldeinsamkeit, Op. 86 No. 2 [3:37]
15. Deutsche Volkslieder – No. 42, In stiller Nacht [3:04]
16. Deutsche Volkslieder – No. 15, Schwesterlein [2:04]
17. Immer leiser wird mein Schlummer, Op. 105 No. 2 [3:17]
18. Ständchen, Op. 106 No. 1 [1:47]
19. Gestillte Sehnsucht, Op. 91 No. 1 [6:19]
20. Geistliches Wiegenlied, Op. 91 No. 2 [6:00]
21. Alto Rhapsody, Op. 53 [12:32]
CD 2
Gustav MAHLER (1860–1911)
Des Knaben Wunderhorn
1. Ich ging mit Lust durch einen grünen Wald [3:45]
2. Hans und Grethe [2:06]
3. Frühlingsmorgen [1:52]
4. Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen [6:26]
5. Der Schildwache Nachtlied [6:09]
6. Um schlimme Kinder artig zu machen [1:40]
Fünf Rückert-Lieder
7. Ich atmet’ einen linden Duft [2:20]
8. Liebst du um Schönheit [2:29]
9. Um Mitternacht [5:51]
Des Knaben Wunderhorn
10. Das irdische Leben [3:02]
11. Wer hat dies Liedlein erdacht? [2:11]
12. Lob des hohen Verstandes [2:44]
Fünf Rückert-Lieder
13. Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen [6:43]
Des Knaben Wunderhorn
14. Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt [4:45]
15. Rheinlegendchen [3:04]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810–1856)
Frauenliebe und –leben, Op. 42
16. Seit ich ihn gesehen [2:15]
17. Er, der Herrlichste von allen [2:55]
18. Ich kann’s nicht fassen [1:40]
19. Du Ring an meinem Finger [2:40]
20. Helft mir, ihr Schwestern [1:35]
21. Süßer Freund, du blickest [4:14]
22. An meinem Herzen [1:27]
23. Nun hast du mir den ersten Schmerz getan [4:10]
Max REGER (1873 – 1916)
24. Der Brief, Op. 76 No. 8 [1:21]
25. Volkslied aus Franken – Waldeinsamkeit, Op. 76 No. 3 [1:50]
CD 3
Franz SCHUBERT (1797–1828)
1. Die Allmacht, D852 [5:41]
2. Fischerweise, D881 [3:54]
3. An die Musik, D547 [2:44]
4. Der Musensohn, D764 [2:25]
5. Ganymed, D544 [4:17]
6. Auf dem Wasser zu singen, D774 [4:31]
7. Ellens Gesang III – Ave Maria, D839 [7:25]
8. Die Forelle, D550 [1:59]
9. Gretchen am Spinnrade, D118 [3:13]
10. Frühlingsglaube, D686 [3:41]
11. Der Tod und das Mädchen, D531 [2:48]
12. Lachen und Weinen, D777 [1:54]
13. Litanei auf des Fest ‚Allerseelen’, D343 [5:54]
14. Erlkönig, D328 [3:58]
15. Der Hirt auf dem Felsen, D965 [11:33]
Hugo WOLF (1860–1903)
Mörike-Lieder
16. Gesang Weylas [1:42]
17. Auf einer Wanderung [3:26]
Richard STRAUSS (1864–1949)
18. Die Nacht, Op. 10 No. 3 [3:08]
19. Allerseelen, Op. 10 No. 8 [3:08]
20. Schlechtes Wetter, Op. 69 No. 5 [2:17]
CD 4
Maurice RAVEL (1875–1937)
Trois Chansons madécasses
1. I. Nahandove [5:55]
2. II. Aoua! Aoua! [4:17]
3. III. Il est doux [4:09]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835–1921)
4. Une flute invisible [3:11]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
5. Sing not to me, beautiful maiden [4:46]
6. Harvest of sorrow [4:24]
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792–1868)
La regatta veneziana
7. Anzoleta avanti la regatta [3:29]
8. Anzoleta co passa la regata [2:18]
9. Anzoleta dopo la regata [3:52]
Richard WAGNER (1813–1883)
Wesendonck-Lieder orch. Mottl
10. I. Der Engel [3:36]
11. II. Stehe still! [4:02]
12. III. Im Treibhaus [6:39]
13. IV. Schmerzen [2:38]
14. V. Träume [4:55]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756–1791)
15. Così fan tutte, act 2 – È amore un ladroncello [3:05]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685–1759)
16. Giulio Cesare, act 1 – Es blaut die Nacht [3:46]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685–1750)
17. St John Passion BWV245, No. 58 – Es ist vollbracht [6:16]
18. St Matthew Passion BWV243 – Erbarme dich, mein Gott [7:27]
CD 5
Giuseppe VERDI (1813–1901)
1. Messa da Requiem Lux aeterna [6:51]
Gustav MAHLER
Das Lied von der Erde
2. VI. Der Abschied [29:34]
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801–1835)
3. Norma, act 2 – Mira, O Norma [4:23]
Georges BIZET (1838–1875)
4. Carmen, act 1 – Draußen am Wall von Sevilla (Seguidilla) [4:19]
Richard WAGNER
5. Tristan und Isolde, act 3 – Mild und leise wire r lächelt (Isoldes Liebestod) [6:52]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART
6. Don Giovanni, act 2 – In quali eccessi … Mi tradi quell’alma ingrata [6:08]
Richard STRAUSS
Der Rosenkavalier, act 3 – conclusion
7. Mein Gott, es war nicht mehr als eine Farce [2:22]
8. Heut oder morgen oder den übernächsten Tag [4:32]
9. Marie Theres’! … Hab’ mir’s gelobt [6:02]
10. Ist ein Traum, kann nicht wirklich sein [3:49]
11. Ist ein Traum … Spür’ nur dich [3:00]

Gerald Moore (piano) (CD 1: 1-4; CD 2: 1-25; CD 3: 1, 2, 16-20; CD 4: 7-9); Geoffrey Parsons (piano) (CD 1: 5-20; CD 3: 3-15; CD 4: 1-6); Philharmonia Orchestra (and Chorus)/Otto Klemperer (CD 1: 21; CD 4: 10-14, 18; CD 5: 2, 5, 6); Karl Böhm (CD 4: 15); Carlo Maria Giulini (CD 5: 1); Herbert von Karajan (CD 5: 7-11); Berliner Symphoniker/Horst Stein (CD 4: 16; CD 5: 4); Karl Forster (CD 4: 17); Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala di Milano/Tullio Serafin (CD 5: 3); Herbert Downes (viola) (CD 1: 19, 20); Gervase de Peyer (clarinet) (CD 3: 15); Douglas Whittaker (flute) (CD 4: 1-4); Amaryllis Fleming (cello) (CD 4: 1-3); Maria Callas (soprano) (CD 5: 3); Rudolf Schock (tenor) (CD 5: 4); Teresa Stich-Randall, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (sopranos, Eberhard Wächter (baritone) (CD 5: 7-11)
 


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