Elisabeth Schumann -
Silver Thread of Song
see end of review for track listing
Elisabeth Schumann (soprano), various pianists and orchestras
rec. 1926 – 1949
no song texts but a comprehensive appreciation by Richard Stokes
EMI CLASSICS ICON 9184802 [6 CDs: 64:52 + 72:08 + 79:17 +78:03 +76:15 + 71:26]

‘Few sopranos divide critical opinion more than Elisabeth Schumann’, writes Richard Stokes in his extensive liner-notes for this issue. For me the hardest nut to crack has been her use of portamento – in simple terms: her sliding from one note to another. Many singers do that to achieve a seamless legato, but she does it more than most, and the effect can verge close to seasickness. It is most obvious on her earliest, acoustic recordings, and they have all been excluded from this issue. Her electrical recordings are afflicted also, but not so blatantly as those made during her earlier years. It is a matter of acquired taste. Once hooked by Elisabeth Schumann this defect – if it is a defect – becomes of little importance when there is so much else that is so attractive: the purity of tone, the exquisite phrasing and – most of all – her irresistible charm.

Just take the first two CDs in this box, 49 Schubert songs spanning more than twenty years of her recording career. The earliest were set down in 1927 when she was 39; the last ones in 1949 when she was past 60. One can hear the voice ageing, but not to excess. The bloom and lightness from the 20s gradually lessens but on the other hand she gains in expressivity. The voice was never very large and she didn’t aim for heavier operatic roles. As a concert singer she could continue to sing the same repertoire.

I won’t go into detail for each of the songs but want to point out a few. Frühlingsglaube, recorded in 1933, is most lovingly sung but there is a lot of scooping. Ave Maria, recorded the following year with orchestra, is the perfect model of how this song should be sung: not a trace of portamento, rich, beautiful tone. In An die Musik from 1936 she slides both upwards and downwards. We notice it and say: ‘Old-fashioned but lovely!’ Fritz Kreisler, one of my earliest instrumental favourites, also indulged in portamento and everybody loved him.

We could go on nitpicking like this – if we are fault-finders – but we could also just accept that this is Elisabeth Schumann’s style. Within that style are the most glittering gems, ready to be savoured. Those who prefer their apple-pie without custard should look elsewhere, but for me Schumann’s custard adds flavour even though I may not want the vanilla every time I want a slice of Schubert.

In the bargain we also get the opportunity to compare two versions of Die Forelle. We can also enjoy the duet with Reginald Kell in Der Hirt auf dem Felsen and to shut our eyes and be rocked to sleep in Wiegenlied – lovely readings all of them, and many, many more.

On CD 3 she continues to charm us with a total of 36 songs by Schumann and Brahms. The former’s Mondnacht has rarely been sung with such magic. Frauenliebe und-leben with Gerald Moore at the piano, was recorded over a period of eleven years. Du Ring an meinem Finger and Helft mir, ihr Schwestern as late as June 1949. In spite of some loss of resonance, they are among the best. The whole cycle is sung with deep understanding.

Naturally charm and glitter are not enough for those more serious songs and when we come to Brahms it is the dark moods that dominate. Schumann’s readings are well worth anyone’s attention. I believe that some older readers, who still remember the age of the 78rpm records, heard some of these songs in her readings. There existed alternative versions but most retailers limited their assortment and HMV and Schumann was a safe bet.

In the mid-60s, when I tried to widen my taste to encompass Lieder I bought the EMI box with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau singing the complete German Folksongs in Brahms’ settings, with Gerald Moore at the piano. That was love at first sight and I played them over and over again and still today, when I have transferred them to CD, I take out the discs with the intention of sampling two or three. I always end up playing the whole disc. For some reason I hadn’t heard Elisabeth Schumann’s recording of six of those before and now she has become my second love. Schwarzkopf is at her most lovely in that favourite recording but the other Elisabeth in a simpler more straightforward way catches the rural atmosphere just as marvellously.

CD 4 is devoted to Bach, Handel and Mozart and her Mozart always goes to my heart. Her Cherubin, Susanna and Zerlina are quite outstanding. It is also interesting to have here the Benedictus movement from Mozart’s Requiem in a live recording from Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris with the Vienna Philharmonic under Bruno Walter and with a superb quartet of soloists. Besides Elisabeth Schumann we hear the Swedish mezzo Kerstin Thorborg, a very young Anton Dermota in the tenor part and the magnificent bass Alexander Kipnis.

CD 5 contains more lieder. Some Beethoven, a couple of Haydn songs in English, including the lovely The Sailor’s Song which was another early favourite since I became acquainted with Elisabeth Schumann. 14 Hugo Wolf and 13 Richard Strauss complete her traversal of the central German song repertoire. Both were composers close to her heart. She felt strongly for Wolf’s way of merging text and music to become an inseparable unit. One can hear how she relishes every syllable and every note of the songs. Even closer to her was Richard Strauss, with whom she toured the US in 1921. Strauss wrote his early songs with his wife Pauline in mind but when he heard Schumann he fell in love with her – at least with her voice – and even suggested that she should sing Salome! His judgement obviously failed him sometimes, just as he is also said to have composed the Brentano songs (1918) for Elisabeth Schumann. Some of them could well suit her but in particular Lied der Frauen needs a dramatic singer, a Salome, Elektra or Dyer’s Wife in Die Frau ohne Schatten. The songs recorded here suit her to perfection. They are valuable documents also as reminders that Schumann had studied these songs with the composer and thus must likely have performed them according to his wishes.

Off the record it is worth mentioning that another legendary singer, also born in 1888 like Elisabeth Schumann, also worked closely with Richard Strauss. That was the baritone Heinrich Schlusnus who, in 1919-1920, recorded a number of songs with the composer at the piano. Anyone wanting to go to the roots of these songs should listen to Schumann and Schlusnus.

The last disc has a couple of operatic excerpts of historical importance. First three scenes from the ‘complete’ – it’s heavily cut – recording of Rosenkavalier from 1933. Schumann’s Sophie was one of her most admired roles. We also hear Maria Olszewska as Octavian. The quintet from Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, recorded in 1931 is also legendary with two giants in the Wagner Fach – Lauritz Melchior and Friedrich Schorr – lining up in Kingsway Hall with two British singers as David and Magdalena and Elisabeth Schumann as the loveliest imaginable Eva. A number of English songs from various epochs are nice but they are overshadowed by the last nine numbers from the Viennese operetta repertoire where Schumann was second to none. How she caresses the phrases in Sei nicht bös or Im chambre séparée. She is irresistible in the nightingale song from Der Vogelhändler, where she also demonstrates her talent as whistler (!) which she does in a couple of other songs as well. The final track is the barcarolle from Les Contes d’Hoffmann. Everybody knows that it is a duet, and there are two voices singing here too, both belonging to Elisabeth Schumann. Recorded in 1938 this was some achievement and someone with knowledge of recording technique in those days must explain to me how it was done.

The result is however fine and since each track on this well-filled box has something to recommend it this is a bargain not to be missed. EMI have immeasurable riches in their archives. We have to be grateful that they make recordings like these available. They should never be out of the catalogues.

Göran Forsling

Each track on this well-filled box has something to recommend it. A bargain not to be missed. Should never be out of the catalogues.

Track listing
CD 1 [64:52]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797 – 1828)
1. Die Post [2:27]
2. Wohin? [1:57]
3. Im Abendrot [3:27]
4. Die Vögel [0:56]
5. Du bist die Ruh [4:26]
6. Heidenröslein [1:59]
7. Das Lied im Grünen [2:32]
8. An die Nachtigall [1:27]
9. Liebhaber in allen Gestalten [1:21]
10. Frühlingsglaube [2:46]
11. Die Forelle [1:49]
12. Horch! Horch! die Lerch’ [2:51]
13. Ave Maria [4:37]
14. An die Musik [3:00]
15. Der Jüngling an der Quelle [1:18]
16. Geheimes [2:00]
17. Auf dem Wasser zu singen [3:21]
18. Des Fischers Liebesglück [3:17]
19. Der Musensohn [2:20]
20. Fischerweise [2:59]
21. Gretchen am Spinnrade [3:28]
22. Liebesbotschaft [2:38]
23. Am Tage aller Seelen (Litanei) [3:12]
24. Nacht und Träume [3:03]
25. Seligkeit [1:31]
CD 2 [72:06]
1. Nähe des Geliebten [2:39]
2. Lachen und Weinen [1:40]
3. Frühlingstraum [4:02]
4. Der Einsame [3:54]
5. Nachtviolen [2:36]
6. An die Geliebte [1:57]
7. Wiegenlied (Schlafe, Schlafe) [2:34]
8. Der Schmetterling [1:31]
9. Des Baches Wiegenlied [4:02]
10. Der Hirt auf dem Felsen [8:51]
11. Der Jüngling und der Tod [4:22]
12. Das Heimweh [1:20]
13. Hin und wieder fliegen Pfeile [1:21]
14. Liebe schwärmt [1:19]
15. Dass sie hier gewesen [3:31]
16. Der Vollmond strahlt [3:35]
17. Die Forelle [2:08]
18. Die junge Nonne [4:44]
19. Das Mädchen [2:55]
20. An mein Klavier [2:46]
21. Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt [3:20]
22. So lasst mich scheinen [3:50]
23. Schweizerlied [1:37]
24. Hin und wieder fliegen Pfeile [1:23]
CD 3 [79:17]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810 – 1856)
1. Mondnacht [3:44]
2. Er ist’s [1:15]
3. Aufträge [2:18]
4. Schneeglöckchen [1:22]
5. Der Nussbaum [2:54]
6. O ihr Herren, o ihr werten [0:53]
7. Röselein, Röselein [2:19]
8. Lorelei [1:04]
9. Ständchen [1:36]
Frauenliebe und –leben, Op 42
10. Seit ihr ihn gesehen [2:13]
11. Er, der Herrlichste von allen [2:52]
12. Ich kann’s nicht fassen, nicht glauben [2:02]
13. Du Ring an meinem Finger [2:16]
14. Helft mir, ihr Schwestern [1:51]
15. Süsser Freund, du blickest [4:16]
16. An meinem Herzen, an meiner Brust [1:10]
17. Nun hast du mir den ersten Schmerz getan [3:24]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833 – 1897)
18. Der Tod, das ist die kühle Nacht [2:52]
19. Sandmännchen [2:48]
20. Das Mädchen spricht [1:21]
21. Ständchen [1:49]
22. Wiegenlied [1:31]
23. Vergebliches Ständchen [1:33]
24. Nachtigall [2:24]
25. Der Jäger [0:55]
26. Ruhe, Süssliebchen, im Schatten [4:22]
27. Bitteres zu sagen denkst du [2:00]
28. Blinde Kuh [1:12]
29. An eine äolsharfe [4:07]
49 Deutsche Volkslieder WoO33
30. Mein Mädel hat einen Rosenmund [2:00]
31. Da unten im Tale [2:04]
32. Schwesterlein, Schwesterlein [2:50]
33. Och Mod’r, ich well en Ding han! [1:34]
34. Erlaube mir, fein’s Mädchen [1:14]
35. Wie komm’ ich denn zur Tür herein? [1:39]
36. In stiller Nacht [3:06]
CD 4 [78:03]
Gottfried STÖLZEL (1690 – 1749)
1. Bist du bei mir (previously attributed to Bach) [3:25]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 – 1750)
2. Aus Liebe will mein Heiland sterben (St Matthew Passion) [4:26]
Mass in B minor BWV232
3. Christe eleison [5:59]
4. Domine Deus [5:48]
5. Et in unum Dominum [4:47]
6. Es ist vollbracht (Cantata No. 159) [4:38]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685 – 1759)
7. O hätt’ ich Jubals Harf’ (Joshua) [3:09]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 – 1791)
8. L’amerò, sarò costante (Il re pastore) [4:25]
Le nozze di Figaro
9. Non so più cosa son [3:22]
10. Voi, che sapete [3:08]
11. Venite, inginocchiatevi [3:26]
12. Deh, vieni, non tardar [3:41]
Don Giovanni
13. Batti, batti, o bel Masetto [3:47]
14. Vedrai, carino [3:42]
Exsultate, jubilate, K165
15. Alleluja [2:21]
Bernhard FLIES (c.1770 – 1851)
16. Wiegenlied (previously attributed to Mozart) [3:05]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART
17. Warnung [1:43]
18. Abendempfindung [4:41]
19. Das Veilchen [2:38]
Requiem in D minor K626
20. Benedictus [4:59]
CD 5 [76:15]
Joseph HAYDN (1732 – 1809)
1. She never told her love [3:19]
2. The Sailor’s Song [2:22]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770 – 1827)
3. Wonne der Wehmut [2:38]
4. Mit einem gemalten Bande [1:57]
Hugo WOLF (1860 – 1903)
5. Schlafendes Jesuskind [3:22]
6. Nun wandre, Maria [2:49]
7. Du denkst mit einem Fädchen [0:55]
8. Mausfallen-Sprüchlein [1:11]
9. Elfenlied [1:33]
10. Ach, des Knaben Augen [1:42]
11. Bedeckt mich mit Blumen [2:50]
12. In der Frühe [2:38]
13. In dem Schatten meiner Locken [2:07]
14. Mausfallen-Sprüchlein [1:15]
15. Auch kleine Dinge [2:01]
16. Wie glänzt der helle Mond [2:56]
17. Nimmersatte Liebe [2:24]
18. Und willst du deinen Liebsten [2:29]
Richard STRAUSS (1864 – 1949)
19. Morgen! [4:04]
20. Ständchen [2:49]
21. Wiegenlied [3:48]
22. Freundliche Vision [2:51]
23. All’ mein Gedanken [1:16]
24. Hat gesagt - bleibt’s nicht dabei [2:06]
25. Schlechtes Wetter [1:54]
26. Ständchen [2:09]
27. Traum durch die Dämmerung [2:53]
28. Ich schwebe [1:41]
29. Heimkehr [2:18]
30. Muttertändelei [2:20]
31. Die heiligen drei Könige [4:18]
CD 6 [71:26]
Der Rosenkavalier
1. In dieser feierlichen Stunde der Prüfung [3:22]
2. Mir ist die Ehre widerfahren [6:07]
3. Ist ein Traum [6:19]
Richard WAGNER (1813 – 1883)
4. Selig, wie die Sonne (Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg) [4:46]
5. Wiegenlied: Schlafe ein, holdes Kind [2:48]
Engelbert HUMPERDINCK (1854 – 1921)
Hänsel und Gretel
6. Ein Männlein steht im Walde ... Der kleine Sandmann bin ich [3:38]
7. Abends will ich schlafen gehen [2:01]
George MONRO (1680 – 1731)
8. My lovely Celia [2:13]
Henry CAREY (1690 – 1743)
9. Pastorale: Flocks are sporting [2:41]
Sir Landon RONALD (1873 – 1938)
10. Down in the forest [2:27]
Sir Arthur SULLIVAN (1842 – 1900)
11. Orpheus with his lute [3:07]
Thomas ARNE (1710 – 1778)
12. Where the bee sucks [2:07]
Carl ZELLER (1842 – 1898)
13. Sei nicht bös (Der Obersteiger) [3:24]
Richard HEUBERGER [1850 – 1914)
14. Im chambre séparée (Der Opernball) [2:43]
Josef STRAUSS (1827 – 1870)
15. Sphärenklänge [3:32]
Johann STRAUSS II (1825 – 1899)
16. Spiel’ ich die Unschuld vom Lande (Die Fledermaus) [3:20]
Carl ZIEHRER (1843 – 1922)
17. O Wien, mein liebes Wien (Der Fremdenführer) [3:09]
18. Sei gepriesen, du lauschige Nacht (Die Landstreicher) [3:08]
19. Wie mein Ahn’l zwanzig Jahr! (Der Vogelhändler) [3:18]
Ralph BENATZKY (1884 – 1957)
20. Ich muss wieder einmal in Grinzing sein [3:21]
Jacques OFFENBACH (1819 – 1880)
21. Night of stars (Les Contes d’Hoffmann - Barcarolle) [3:00]
(Second voice: Elisabeth Schumann)