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CD: AmazonUK AmazonUS

The Flagstad Recitals - Volume 1
see end of review for track listing
Kirsten Flagstad (soprano); Edwin McArthur (piano)
rec. Decca Studios, West Hampstead, London, UK, March 1956 (Schubert, Schumann), November 1956 (Brahms, Wolf, Strauss, Sinding)
DECCA ELOQUENCE 480 1799 [65:50 + 75:53]

Experience Classicsonline

I seem to be reviewing this Flagstad series (see below) in reverse order, but this really doesn’t matter very much since there is no strict chronology anyway. After a healthy dose of Wagner, in harness with some Mahler, I delighted (mostly) in some Nordic songs with orchestra or piano accompaniment. Here is a substantial helping of Austro-German Lieder and, having heard rather little of ‘The Voice of the Century’ in such repertoire, I was very curious to hear the results. I had some preconceptions that Brahms would be her cup of tea, most of all perhaps the Four Serious Songs, and that Schumann would also be within her scope. I was more doubtful as to her Schubert and Wolf, especially the latter, with his intricate marriage of text and music requiring a more flexible voice type. Concerning Richard Strauss his songs suit both lyrical and dramatic voices and knowing that Flagstad was the singer who premiered his Vier letzte Lieder at the Albert Hall on 22 May 1950 with the Philharmonia conducted by Furtwängler, the prospects were good.

To my surprise it turned out almost the other way around. The Schubert songs are generally rather successful and the recitativic style of Dem Unendlichen clearly suits the experienced Wagner singer, while the legato episodes are exquisitely sung as well. Der Erlkönig is dramatic as it should be but I have heard many singers who manage to individualise the three characters better. Am Grabe Anselmos is rather unsteady but Des Mädchens Klage is sensitively phrased and Ave Maria, in spite of being on the heavy side, has many moments of beauty.

She opens the Brahms section and Vier ernste Gesänge with an intense and powerful Denn es gehet dem Menschen, but the other three are less convincing. It goes without saying that there is a lot of deeply felt and sensitive singing but it is often compromised by the occasionally rather pinched and squally tone. Her portamenti, the sliding from one note to the next, give the impression of faulty intonation. This also affects the eight following songs; only Wie Melodien zieht es mir is really satisfying.

The Schumann group also suffers, more or less, from the same shortcomings. Soldatenbraut is good and best of all is Widmung, where she shows her greatness. The positive surprise came in the form of her interpretations of Hugo Wolf, whose songs can elude also very experienced Lieder artists. It seems though that the challenge enticed from her some of the best singing per se and also deep understanding. She is not an analytical and detailed singer in the Fischer-Dieskau or Schwarzkopf mould but she finds many of the small nuances in an unaffected way. Zur Ruh is perhaps the highlight in this group.

Even better, as could be expected, is her Richard Strauss. She sings Befreit with glorious tone and perfect breath control - in spite of the slow tempo - and this is followed by a lovely Mit deinen blauen Augen. Ich trage meine Minne is light and girlish and Geduld, too seldom heard, emerges as the masterpiece it is. All six songs in fact seem to liberate her singing: the squally tone is gone, the portamenti are less pronounced and there is glow. What a pity she never sang a single Strauss role on stage. She should have been a great Salome, Elektra and Feldmarschallin, even a gorgeous Ariadne in her heyday, and Die Färberin in Die Frau ohne Schatten would have suited her as well.

The four short songs by Sinding find her on home ground. Der skreg en fugl (A bird cried) leaves the deepest impression. This poem by Wilhelm Krag has inspired several composers besides Sinding: Edward Grieg, Agathe Backer-Grøndahl and Sigurd Lie, who all set the poem in the early 1890s. But the light, folksong-like Den jomfru gik i valmu-Vang? is a true charmer and rounds off the whole programme with a naughty little smile.

Edwin McArthur is a flexible accompanist and the mono recordings are fully acceptable. A mixed bag, but for the Wolf and Strauss songs - and Sinding who is much more than The Rustle of Spring - this is still a must for Flagstad admirers, and there is a lot more to admire as well.

Göran Forsling

Reviews of other volumes in this series

Recitals Vol. 2 Recitals Vol. 3 Recitals Vol. 4 Norwegian Hymns

 Track listing
CD 1
Franz SCHUBERT (1797 - 1828)
1. Dem Unendlichen, D.291 [5:42]
2. Erlkönig, D.328 [4:19]
3. Am Grabe Anselmos, D.504 [3:37]
4. Des Mädchens Klage, D.191 [4:10]
5. Ave Maria (Ellens Gesang III) D.839 [6:58]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833 - 1897)
Vier ernste Gesänge, Op. 121
6. I Denn es gehet dem Menschen [4:03]
7. II Ich wandle mich und sahe [4:04]
8. III O Tod, o Tod wie bitter bist du [4:39]
9. IV Wenn ich mit Menschen- und mit Engelszungen redete [4:56]
10. Treue Liebe, Op. 7 No. 1 [3:08]
11. Am Sonntag Morgen, Op. 49 No. 1 [1:41]
12. Auf dem Kirchhofe, Op. 105 No. 4 [3:09]
13. Wie Melodien zieht es mir, Op. 105 No. 1 [2:05]
14. Alte Liebe, Op. 72 No. 1 [3:46]
15. Bei dir sind meine Gedanken, Op. 95 No. 2 [1:56]
16. Wir wandelten Op. 96 No. 2 [4:01]
17. Dein blaues Auge Op. 59 No. 8 [2:27]
CD 2
Robert SCHUMANN (1810 - 1856)
1. Der Nussbaum, Op. 25 No. 3 [3:16]
2. Soldatenbraut, Op. 64 No. 1 [2:14]
3. Meine Rose, Op. 90 No. 2 [5:22]
4. Liebeslied, Op. 51 No. 5 [1:49]
5. Die Lotusblume, Op. 25 No. 7 [2:30]
6. Widmung, Op. 25 No. 1 [2:09]
7. Lust der Sturmnacht, Op. 35 NO. 1 [2:46]
8. In der Fremde (from Liederkreis, Op. 39) [2:27]
9. Zum Schluss, Op. 25 No. 26 [2:12]
Hugo WOLF (1860 - 1903)
10. Gesang Weylas (Mörike-Lieder No. 46) [1:25]
11. Gebet (Mörike-Lieder No. 28) [2:48]
12. Über Nacht (from Lieder aus der Jugendzeit) [2:52]
13. Der Freund [1:55]
14. Heb’ auf dein blondes Haupt (from Italienisches Liederbuch) [2:58]
15. Anakreons Grab [3:03]
16. Morgenstimmung [3:13]
17. Zur Ruh, zur Ruh! [3:25]
Richard STRAUSS (1864 - 1949)
18. Befreit, Op. 39 No. 4 [5:52]
19. Mit deinen blauen Augen, Op. 56 No. 4 [2:03]
20. Lob des Leidens, Op. 15 No. 3 [3:01]
21. Ich trage meine Minne, Op. 32 No. 1 [2:05]
22. Seitdem dein Aug’ in meines schaute, Op. 17 No. 1 [2:09]
23. Geduld, Op. 10 No. 5 [5:19]
Christian August SINDING (1856 - 1941)
24. Leit etter live tog liv det! Op. 55 No. 5 [0:59]
25. Sylvelin, Op. 55 No. 1 [2:31]
26. Der skreg en fugl, Op. 18 No. 5 [2:24]
27. Den Jomfru gik i valmu-Vang? Op. 50 No. 5 [1:28]



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