Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
CD 1
Dichterliebe Op. 48 (1840)
3 recordings;
Aksel Schiøtz (tenor); Gerald Moore (piano) (recorded 10 January 1946, studio) [26:22]
Charles Panzera (baritone); Alfred Cortot (piano) (recorded 17 June 1935, studio) [25:13]
Gerhard Hüsch (baritone); Hanns Udo Müller (piano) (recorded 29, 30 January 1936, studio) [26:59]
CD 2
Frauenliebe und -leben, Op. 42 (1840)
3 recordings;
Lotte Lehmann (soprano); Paul Ulanowsky (piano) (recorded 20 January 1946, New York, live) [21:40]
Marian Anderson (alto); Franz Rupp (piano) (recorded 29, 30 March 1950, studio) [21:01]
Kathleen Ferrier (alto); Bruno Walter (piano) (recorded 7 September 1949, Edinburgh Festival, live) [20:43]
MUSIC & ARTS CD-1235(2 [78:35 + 62:24]

This is an intriguing idea, one that sometimes crops up in discs. We have three recordings each of these two song-cycles, so there are six singers, six pianists, four studio cycles and two live, and none previously unreleased.

All in fact will be familiar to collectors though I fancy that the recordings of Dichterliebe will be the most well known. Aksel Schiøtz’s 1946 recording with Gerald Moore was last heard by me on the big box devoted to the singer on Danacord [DACOCD 451-460] in a transfer that preserved more shellac hiss but also a more open sound. Tully Potter wrote the notes for that box and reprises the job for this disc. Schiøtz had a few years earlier recorded the cycle with Folmer Jensen but as I wrote in my review of that Danacord box there really is very little to choose between them. He catches the right colour of melancholy, the shading and shaping of lines and if he never penetrates quite to the emotional heart of things he nevertheless provides an exemplary example of nuanced and imaginative singing. The next singer, Charles Panzera, is known to have admired Schiøtz almost without reservation. The baritone set down his recording in 1935 with Cortot as his studio partner, whose playing of the postludes, in particular, has gone down in discographic history. This famous set preserves a performance of compelling intimacy and understanding, marvellous colour and an avoidance of extremes and exaggerations – one of the most centrally recommendable of all such sets. The final Dichterliebe was recorded the following year and features the only German pairing – that of Gerhard Hüsch and Hanns Udo Müller. As with the Moore recording, Müller – later to be killed in an Allied bombing raid – is a touch reticently balanced but judged metrically he is a more limpet like accompanist than the non-specialist Cortot. Elegant, confident and controlled – these are some of the features of this eminent reading, finely transferred.

The second disc offers three female voices in Frauenliebe und -leben. Lotte Lehmann’s live recital is with Paul Ulanowsky at Town Hall in New York in 1946. The recording was not especially good, with a subterranean piano sound and some acetate damage, but Lani Spahr has done his best to make it sound acceptable. Lehmann’s very intimate, portamento-laden style is just about audible and imparts a richly expressive though very choppily phrased wisdom to the cycle. She was well past her best by this point. Marian Anderson’s studio recording comes as balm after the dingy sound accorded Lehmann. Anderson is by far the more stoic, occasionally statuesque Schumann interpreter, less inclined to wear emotions on her sleeve, but possessing a powerful interior introspective quality – and that voice is heard in fine estate. Finally we have Ferrier in Edinburgh with Bruno Walter – note therefore that this is not the John Newmark studio recording. The sound here is cramped but significantly better than the Lehmann. Potter has a go at another (named) critic for the latter’s dismissal of Walter’s piano playing but it’s surely legitimate to point out that it is badly compromised technically, whilst also noting its essential humanity.

There are links to the texts in the booklet, should you need them. The two discs then, preserve six variably successful, variably recorded documents from six singers of outstanding qualities, though recorded again at different stages in their own musical journeys. On the whole the Dichterliebe performances are the more generally recommendable, for a variety of artistic and technical reasons, but the diptych makes for imperishable listening whatever deficiencies may also have been preserved.

Jonathan Woolf

Imperishable listening whatever deficiencies may also have been preserved.