Lieder Recital (Schwarzkopf, Parsons, Moore).

 HMV ASD3124 10-20).

Schubert: An Sylvia; D891; Meeres Stille D216; Erntelied, D434; Wehmut; D772; Gretchen am Spinnrade, D188. Schumann: Widmung, Op. 25 No. 1*; Der Nussbaum, Op. 25 No. 3;  Leis' rudern hier, Op. 25 No. 17*; Wenn durch die Piazzetta, Op. 25 No. 18*. Wolf: An eine Aeolsharfe; Auf einer Wanderung; An den Schlaf; Denk es, o Seele: Begegnung: Der Gärtner; Sonne der Schlummerlosen; Keine gleicht von allen Schönen; Auftrag.


Perhaps it is worth attempting to define the quality that makes Madame Schwarzkopf, for me, the supreme Lieder singer of our time. On most of this delectable disc it can be heard at literally every turn. Take for example the Schubert song Wehmut. The poem begins in perturbation of spirit. Then the words give a warm welcome to the idea of springtime growth and blossom at "Schönheit Fülle" (profusion of beauty). At this moment the accompaniment has its first spread chord, in an unexpectedly remote major tonality; the music is suddenly eloquent of richness and fullness, amazement and delight. Fischer-Dieskau heralds this flowering by a growth of tone, Schwarzkopf by a colouring of the voice. The former illustrates the singer's art, the latter Schubert's. We are shown how the ideas of recital and recitation (not to say recitative) spring from the same deep roots of language, as a “re-speaking” of poetry through music. We are persuaded that the singer knows and loves the lyrics for their own sake, just as Schubert and Wolf did, in the same way and with the same result.

    True, this road does not lead directly to all Lieder. A great singing actress is hardly the ideal male impersonator; and the essential sense of personal identification seems to me rather less than compelling in Wolf songs like Der Gärtner, and the roistering “Venetian” songs of Schumann. The latter composer some­times presents a further barrier to this avenue of approach. By no means all his songs have any deep roots in the poetry; Der Nussbaum, for example, seems to me more notable as light music than for any shades of meaning. In such cases the search far significance can be not only fruitless but also time-consuming in every sense; the tempo of this version sounds decidedly on the slow side.

     A few more mild caveats. In the piano part of Meeres Stille the very deliberate arpeggios, played almost as successive quavers, seem to have the paradoxical result of filling the music with movement, whereas Goethe's intention, and hence Schubert's, was to exhibit a painted ocean "ohne Regung" (without motion). The imagery here is surely the solemn fullness of spread chords, just as in Wehmut, separated by the longest possible interval of silence. Instead we hear the piano practically crossing the bar, which would be better suited to some other poem. A more successful innovation is the pedal throughout the postlude of Denk es, o Seele. This is arguably (if not certainly) what Wolf intended; the blurred harmonic effects assort well with the jarring reverberations of the ominous musings that end the song. In general Geoffrey Parsons is, as ever, the most graphic and accomplished of accompanists, his sensitive and responsive art being heard to especial advantage in a memorable Gretchen am Spinnrade. That song among others is transposed down a tone, which may take some of the shine off the top notes, especially for listeners with absolute pitch. But there is plenty of pure quality. Besides, many a golden voice has proved worthless in the Lied; the durable security is a golden tongue, which appreciates (in every sense) over the years. Here is a singer with both those invaluable assets, and the result is a record which will be treasured by posterity for its perfect examples of the recitalist's art, offering rewarding lessons in interpretation as well as lasting delight.

    The surface and balance are excellent, the design and text of the sleeve are more than competent. But the enclosed leaflet is sub­standard, and the people who depend upon it for their understanding and enjoyment will be sadly let down. The German text has as many as 40 mistranscriptions; the translations are too often wooden and uncomprehending.


© gramophone, Mar. 1976 (p. 1504)