Lieder (+ Loewe, Strauss, Brahms) (Hotter, Parsons)

The Art of Hans Hotter. Wolf: Mörike songs nos.4, 5, 9, Italian Songbook nos.7, 18, 22, 27, and 3 Michelangelo songs [+ Schubert: Songs D583, 765, 882, 904 and 957, 1, 11, 13, 14] Hans Hotter/Geoffrey Parsons; Decca


Decca seem to believe that as they've got Hotter they need fans. At least this disc appears to be aimed mainly at the singer's personal public. It's a feature production, which awards him not only a big picture but the large print as well. A careful scrutiny of the back cover reveals that Schubert and Wolf were among his collaborators on this occasion. Also unostentatiously present was Geoffrey Parsons (piano).

    Such presentation seems to me wholly alien to the art of the lied. Perhaps it was designed to sell records. But it may get the success it deserves. It naively focuses all eyes on a glaring defect. Hans Hotter's dramatic gift and his nobly resonant voice, even in their heyday, were really suited to only a few lieder (but to those of course superbly well, as evidenced by some memorable renderings of e.g. Loewe's Edward or Brahms's Verrat). So a complete recital can either sound suitable but uncontrasted or contrasted but unsuitable. Unfortunately the latter alternative has been preferred, with predictable results. The frequent downward transposition makes the songs sound that much heavier and sadder. From such flatness it is hard to raise a sparkle of humour or tenderness; and the occasional effervescence sometimes seems over-effortful. For some palates there will be too much ham with the sauerkraut in Der Tambour, and too hearty an open-air tang in the second stanza of Jägerlied.

    Other questions of taste are more dubious still. Thus the unmerited decoration pinned on to the end of An die Entfernte gives the vocal line what can only be described as a nasty turn. Nor are there any medals for performing, however dutifully, that notorious old misprint in Im Frühling (of course “säng' ein süsses Lied von ihr” on the last page should repeat, not vary, the melody at “schönen Himmel blau und hell” in bar 14). Further, there are technical flaws. Not even the top notes of Der Doppelgänger need be quite so shaking in their effect; not even Gruppe aus dem Tartarus need be quite so audibly breathtaking. Of course there is much to admire, especially where the songs are sung in their original keys and where they afford scope for needful and unforced characterization (as in the Michelangelo songs). A record consisting solely of such readings would make a viable sequel to the present volume. Personally, I think it could only enhance Hans Hotter's stature and renown if he were now to accept, in Sir Walter Scott's words, that “the Big Bow-Wow strain I can do myself like anyone now going; but the exquisite touch . . . is denied to me”. It is not however denied to Geoffrey Parsons (piano), to whose own capital Art this disc bears eloquent if unwritten testimony.


The Musical Times, Jun. 1974 (pp. 481) © the estate of eric sams