‘Flicka’, as she is known among friends, has garnered the opera
houses and concert halls around the world for four decades and
her agenda is still well-filled. As a recording artist she has
been prolific and appeared in opera, art-song, sacred music,
operetta, Broadway musical and cross-over albums – always with
glorious results. The present disc, recorded in 1978 and reissued
by Arkiv with the original cover picture and Lionel Salter’s
liner notes, was one of the few records with her I never bought
on LP – God knows why! Now that I finally have it in my collection
I feel satisfied. Mahler songs and Frederica von Stade’s voice
have always seemed the ideal combination.
Her clean, slim voice is especially well suited to Lieder
eines fahrenden Gesellen. One of her specialities in opera
was the trouser role: Cherubino and Octavian. The opening lines
of Wenn mein Schatz are sung with innocent, boyish tone
and in Ging heut’ Morgen she is wonderfully fresh and
youthful, singing the final lines touchingly with ‘naked’ tone.
She can also be strong and dramatic: Ich hab’ ein glühend
Messer has all the necessary intensity with desperation
almost visible. Then Die zwei blauen Augen is simplicity
itself. I have heard few recordings of this cycle that sound
so right – and this in spite of a woman singing what is, after
all, a man’s words.
The two Wunderhorn songs are just as affecting. In Rheinlegendchen
she adopts that boyish tone again and sings, so to speak, with
wide open eyes – a spontaneous story-teller. Wer hat dies
Liedlein erdacht?, famously recorded in the 1930s by Elisabeth
Schumann, definitely has an open-air atmosphere. Schumann was
a charmer, ‘Flicka’ with rounder tone is no less charming.
The five Rückert songs are, for me, indelibly connected with
Janet Baker and her late 1960s recording with Barbirolli. Baker
could, like no-one else, combine simplicity and deep emotions.
But Frederica von Stade’s leaner voice is equally well suited
to these songs. Her sophisticated artlessness – sounds like
a contradiction but is exactly what I hear; artfulness disguised
as simplicity – makes Liebst du um Schönheit so achingly
beautiful. She applies the same light touch on Um
Mitternacht, and this doesn’t exclude interpretative depth.
She has the required power for the big emotional moments, most
importantly the final pages of this great song.
The final song, Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen, has
for forty years been one of the family’s great favourites –
always in Janet Baker’s reading. Other recordings have popped
up and we have admired them, listened closely and in the last
analysis returned to Ms Baker. I still find it the deepest-probing
but Frederica von Stade’s ethereal rendering of Ich bin gestorben
dem Weltgetümmel (Rückert actually wrote Weltgewimmel)
has also etched itself into my store of unforgettable musical
moments. A wonderful end to a memorable recording.
The recording is first class and the LPO play like gods under
Andrew Davis’s watchful direction. There are no song texts in
the booklet, which is a pity, but they are easily available
on the internet.
see also review of Sony release by Tony
Masterwork Index: Rückert