Historic Schumann Lieder

PH21025 cover

SCHUMANN: Myrthen: Der Nuβbaum / Fritz Schrödter, ten; anon pno; Charles Panzéra, bar; Magdeleine Panzéra-Baillot, pno; Victoria de los Angeles, sop; Gerald Moore, pno / Dichterliebe: Ich grolle nicht / Félia Litvinne, sop; anon pno / Dichterliebe: Ich hab’ im Traum geweinet / Nicolai Figner, ten; anon pno / Frauenliebe und Leben: Er, der Herrlichste von allen / Marie Knüpfer-Egli, sop; anon pno / Liederkreis: Dein Bildnis wunderselig / Lilli Lehmann, sop; anon pno / Wanderlied: Wohlauf! noch getrunken den funkelnden Wein / Willi Birrenkoven, ten; anon pno / Die beiden Grenadiere / Vittorio Arimondi, bs; anon pno; Feodor Chaliapin, bs; anon orch.; Sir George Henschel, bar/pno; Herbert Janssen, bar; Michael Raucheisen, pno / Volksliedchen: Wenn ich früh in der Garten geh. Wenn alle Wälder schliefen.* Der Soldat: No. 3, Er geht bei gedämpfter Trammel Klang* / Therese Behr-Schnabel, mezzo; *Artur Schnabel, pno / Myrthen: No. 7, Die Lotosblume; No. 24, Du bist wie eine Blume / Giuseppe Borgatti, ten; anon pno / Myrthen: No. 7, Die Lotosblume / Leo Slezak, ten; anon pno / Frühlingsnacht: Über’m Garten durch die Lüfte. Dichterliebe: Die rose, die lilie / Lydia Lipkowska, sop; anon pno / Dichterliebe: Ich grolle nicht / Erik Schmedes, ten; anon pno / Frauenliebe und Leben / Julia Culp, mezzo; Otto Bake, pno / Myrthen: Widmung / Frieda Hempel, sop; Coenraad V. Bos, pno / Wanderlied: No. 3, Wohlauf! noch getrunken den funkelnden Wein.* Myrthen: Du bist wie eine blume.* Liederkreis+ / Friedrich Schorr, bar; *Robert Jäger, +Fritz Kitzinger, pno / An den Sonnenschein: O Sonnenschein, O Sonnenschein! Volksliedchen: Wenn ich früh in den Garten geh / Ursula van Diemen, sop; Arpad Sandor, pno / Unterm Fenster: Wer ist vor meiner Kammertür? / Lucrezia Bori, sop; John McCormack, ten; anon orch. / So wahr die Sonne scheinet / Jo Vincent, sop; Louis van Tulder, ten; Betsy Rijkens-Culp, pno / Lied eines Schmedes / Sir George Henschel, bar/pno / Liederkreis: In der Fremde / Alice Raveau, alto; G. Andolfi, pno; Charles Panzéra, bar; Magdeleine Panzéra-Baillot, pno / Myrthen: Aus den östlichen / Richard Tauber, ten; Percy Kahn, pno / Dichterliebe: Ich will meine Seele tauchen; Im Rhein, im heiligen Strome / Thom Denijs, bar; Enni Denijs-Kroyt, pno / Myrthen: Zum Schluβ. Liederkreis: Frühlingsnacht. Wer machte dich so krank? Alte Laute / Elena Gerhardt, mezzo; Coenraad V. Bos, pno / An den Sonnenschein: O Sonnenschein, O Sonnenschein! *Marienwürmchen. Frauenliebe und Leben+ / Lotte Lehmann, sop; *Odeon Orch., cond. Manfred Gurlitt; +anon orch., Frieder Weissmann, cond / Mondnacht.* Frühling laβtsein blaues Band.+ O ihr Herren. Röselein, Röselein.+ Loreley: Es flüstern und rauschen die Wogen.+ Ständchen+ / Elisabeth Schumann, sop; *Karl Alwin, +George Reeves, pno / Wer machte dich so krank? Hörst du den Vogel singen? Mondnacht. Was sol lich sagen? / Karl Erb, ten; Bruno Seidler-Winkler, pno / Schöne Fremde.* Aus der Heimat unter den Blitzen.* Was weht um meine Schläfe.* An den Sonnenschein: O Sonnenschein, O Sonnenschein!+ / Ria Ginster, sop; *Gerald Moore, +Paul Baumgartner, pno / Frühlingsnacht: No. 12, Über’m Garten durch die Lüfte / Willi Domgraf-Fassbaender, bar; G. Haberland, pno / Myrthen: Die Lotosblume. Schneeglöckchen. Zum Schluβ. Herzelied. Dir zu eröffnen mein Herz / Susan Metcalfe-Casals, mezzo; Gerald Moore, pno / Dichterliebe. Dein Angesicht, so lieb und schön / Aksel Schiøtz, ten; Moore, pno; Gerhard Hüsch, bar; Hanns Udo Müller, pno / Du bist wie eine Blume. Flutenreicher Ebro, blühendes Ufer / Aksel Schiøtz, bar; Moore, pno / Meine Rose. Widmung / Frida Leider, sop; Michael Raucheisen, pno / Frühlingsfahrt / Hans Hermann Nissen, bar; Bruno Seidler-Winlker, pno / Erstes Grün. Requiem / Flora Nielsen, sop; Moore, pno / Mondnacht / Hans Hotter, bar; Michael Raucheisen, pno / Meine Rose. Widmung / Karl Schmitt-Walter, bar; Victor Graef, pno / Die Kartenlegerin / Elisabeth Höngen, alto; Hans Zipper, pno / Dein Angesicht, so lieb und schön / Pierre Bernac, bar; Gerald Moore, pno / Aufräge / Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, sop; Moore, pno / Die Lotosblume. Die Beiden Grenadiere / Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, bar; Moore, pno / Profil PH21025

Although the header to this review suggests that this is a massive set of records, it actually fits on four CDs. It is part of Profil/Hännsler Classic’s series dedicated to historic lieder recordings, and the first devoted to Schumann.

As one can see from the above list, we have singers great and not-great, famous and obscure, legendary interpretations—some, like the 1928 Lotte Lehmann Frauenliebe und Leben, in an earlier, far less common version—and some who just sing the notes. Interestingly, the net has been cast far and wide, including such singers one would never suspect of having recorded Schumann such as Nicolai Figner, Giuseppe Borgatti and Erik Schmedes, as well as such obscure names as Fritz Schrödter, Marie Knüpfer-Egli, Willi Birrenkoven, Ursula van Diemen, Louis van Tulder, Alice Raveau, Thom Denijs and Flora Nielsen. Thus it’s quite the grab-bag!

I like the suggestion in the liner notes that this is Profil’s answer to the massive EMI LP sets of the 1980s, titled The Record of Singing, only devoted exclusively to lieder, but was less thrilled about the fact that they didn’t include even rudimentary information on who the singers were. Between Joe Pearce of the Vocal Record Collectors’ Society and some information which I was able to find online, including photos of the artists, I was able to identify the singers I didn’t know.

Two things strike you regarding many of the acoustic recordings, particularly the early ones from 1901-1909. First, nearly all of the artists are singing too loudly, which somewhat spoils the effect of the texts of these songs, probably in order to compensate for the fact that the early recording horn wasn’t very sensitive to singers with nuance (as tenors Karl Jörn and Karl Burrian learned to their embarrassment). And second, almost none of the accompanying pianists were any good. I don’t mean just somewhat straightforward and insensitive: most of them could barely play their instruments. Apparently in the old days, the accompanist didn’t matter to ANYONE at the record companies as long as the Famous Singers could be heard, so the singers belted and the pianists klunked along.

Fritz SchrodterWe start our excursion with tenor Fritz Schrödter (1855-1924), an interesting case. He was primarily a singer of operetta and light tenor roles, the heaviest (for the most part) being Assad in Goldmark’s Queen of Sheba and the title role of Offenbach’s Contes d’Hoffmann, yet he also belted out Canio, Turiddu and Enzo Grimaldi in La Gioconda. He must have been very close to the horn for his recording of Der Nuβbaum because he almost sounds as if he’s shouting the song. But he had a good voice. a fine legato, and didn’t distort the music.

Next up is Félia Litvinne, the famous Russian soprano who migrated to France and was associated with dramatic roles, particularly Wagnerian. Just to think of a Wagnerian soprano singing Schumann lieder sounds horrible, but although Litvinne’s voice really had a bright “cut” to it, she also had a good legato and actually sings the song with some feeling. Even better, however, is the famous early Russian tenor Nicolai Figner. Nearly all of his opera recordings sound not so good, but in “Ich hab’ im Traum gewinet” from Dichterliebe (in Russian) you can really tell that he was an artist—and for once, his pianist is at least competent.

Knupfer-EgliMarie Knüpfer-Egli (1872-1924) was an Austrian soprano. According to Pearce, she “made a good number of recordings for G&T and Gramophone, from 1902 up to about 1920. She recorded with Margarethe Knupfer, a mezzo who must have been her sister-in-law, as she (Marie) was married to the very famous bass Paul Knupfer, who died around 1920 and was a prolific recorder.” Her excerpt from Frauenkliebe und Leben is cleanly sung but has zero feeling in it. Lilli Lehmann needs no introduction to vocal collectors; she was one of the legendary sopranos of her time, and her version of the “Intermezzo” from Liederkreis is very finely sung.

BirrenkovenWilli Birrenkoven (1865-1955) was a dramatic tenor with an excellent voice. He debuted in 1888 at the Opera House of Dusseldorf. From 1890 to 1893 he appeared at Köln, from 1893 to 1912 at the Municipal Theatre of Hamburg. Here he sang among other things in the premieres of Busoni’s Die Bratwald  (1902) and Siegfried Wagner’s Sternengebot (1908). He became known in particular as an famous interpreter of Richard Wagner’s operas, even at Bayreuth. His rendition of Wanderlied is strongly and robustly sung, yet with some soft singing in the middle section to show that he could modulate the voice. Vittorio Arimondi was a famous Italian bass of the period, and revels in the famous Beiden Grenadiere.

Mezzo-soprano Therese Behr-Schnabel is, of course, more famous for having been Artur Schnabel’s wife than for her career which she gave up shortly after her marriage except for a few lieder recitals with hubby accompanying. I had only heard her electrical recordings, of which two are featured here, on which she sounds as if the voice was shot—and indeed it was, because her 1904 recording of Volksliedchen, with an indifferent pianist, is really outstanding both vocally and interpretively. In the later recordings, it’s only interpretation you listen for, and yes, she still had it. Otherwise, the voice has turned sour in tone and the low range is unsteady.

To say I was surprised to see Giuseppe Borgatti singing Schumann would be an understatement; he was clearly one of the premier dramatic Italian tenors of his time, and lieder certainly didn’t seem to be his thing, yet he turns in a surprisingly fine rendition of Due bist wie eine Blume, and the 1905 Fonotipia sound quality is quite good for its time. Of Slezak there is little to say that hasn’t already been said of him; next to Caruso, he was clearly the greatest tenor of his time, and he does not disappoint here, though he uses more rubato than is fashionable nowadays.

Lydia Lipkowska was a famed Russian soprano who didn’t sing at the Met but did sing at the Boston and Chicago Opera companies as well as New York’s San Carlo Opera. I never thought a lot of her voice—it wasn’t bad, but it didn’t grab me, either—and here she is OK without being really impressive either vocally or interpretively. Next up is Erik Schmedes, a dramatic tenor almost as highly prized in Vienna (but not quite) as Slezak, but who always sounded just loud and dreadful on records. He does so here. He should have been dragged out in back of the recording studio and horsewhipped for giving a performance of “Ich grolle nicht” from Dichterliebe as awful as this. Ditto his pianist.

Julia Culp was a mezzo-soprano whose lieder performances were absolutely drooled over by critics in her day. She didn’t possess the most beautiful of voices, and she uses far too much portamento for our tastes today, but you can tell that she was a really fine artist, although in “Er, der Herrlichste von allen” she takes a lot of unnecessary breaths. Piano Otto Bake, actually one of the few identified by name on these early records, wasn’t great by any means but he sounds like Geoffrey Parsons compared to most of the others. Chaliapin was Chaliapin: a bit over the top, but always involved with the feelings of the character he was singing. Frieda Hempel, who had for me one of the most beautiful voices of all German soubrettes, does a typically excellent job with Widmung, and she had a very fine pianist in Coenraad v. Bos.

The great German-Jewish baritone Friedrich Schorr sounds absolutely fantastic in Wanderied, his rich, beautiful voice ringing out with ease. But Schorr is even more sensitive in Du bist wie eine blumen, a formerly unpublished recording. Robert Jäger is the fine pianist in both.

Van Diemen

Van Tulder

Van Tulder

Ursula van Diemen (1897-1988)  had a Dutch father and a German mother, and acted in movies in addition to singing. She had a high, bright voice, sang expressively, and was lucky to have a fine accompanist in Arpad Sandor, who later worked with Jascha Heifetz. I could have lived without the duet, sung in English by Lucrezia Bori and John McCormack (quite bad English in Bori’s case). Two very pretty voices, but only McCormack really sings as if he understands the words. Much better is the duet between famed Dutch soprano Jo Vincent and the little-known (outside of Holland) tenor Louis van Tulder. Born in 1892, van Tulder first worked in an office but left the security of a fixed job to become a singer. From 1916 on, van Tulder was first lyric tenor at the Netherlands Opera, singing in Faust, Martha, and La Boheme. After 1930, he was exclusively a concert- and oratorio-singer.

Few truly great singers of the pre-World War I era were so highly prized, yet so quickly forgotten after his death, as Sir George Henschel, who also happened to be an excellent conductor (his recording of Beethoven’s First Symphony was part of Columbia Records’ 1927 centennial tribute to the composer). He had a fine, pointed voice, never used much portamento, sang with an almost 3-D reading of the texts, and also accompanied himself at the piano (no mean feat, even today). Interestingly, I had never heard his Beiden Grenadieren before, and although it is not as theatrical as Chaliapin’s it is just as deeply felt.

Raveau as OrfeoAlice Raveau (1884-1945) made her debut in 1908 at the Opéra-Comique in Paris in Gluck’s Orphée, and this part remained her real star role. In 1911 she appeared as Orpheus at the Arena d’Orange and in 1910 she sang at the Opéra-Comique in the premieres of the Samuel-Rousseau’s opera Léone. She was a very intense singer who felt the music from the inside, although on this recording, at least, the voice sounds a bit nasal. Richard Tauber is Richard Tauber.

Thom Denijs (1877-1935) was a Dutch baritone, who made two complete recordings of Dichterliebe, one for the acoustic horn in 1923 and the second for the microphone in 1928. It is from the latter we hear two excerpts here. Although he devoted a large part of his career to lieder and oratorio, he did have an opera career earlier on, singing such Thom Denijsroles as Papageno in Die Zauberflöte. Elena Gerhardt was, of course, the German mezzo noted for her lieder interpretations; when she made her electrical recordings for HMV, critics practically had an orgasm praising them. But like Theresa Behr-Schnabel, there was some tonal deterioration; her acoustic recordings with Artur Nikisch at the piano are superb whereas in these you’re really just listening for the artistry. These four recordings by her had never been issued previously. French baritone Charles Panzerá had both fine artistry and an excellent voice, though I had never heard him sing Schumann before. In der Fremde is a little slow, but his Der Nuβbaum is sheer perfection.

Lotte Lehmann was a singer I enjoyed thoroughly on her early electrical recordings, but never much liked after 1935. Happily, we have here two early examples of her from 1932, and she sings with a much fresher, more attractive tone than in her later outings, though to my ears she always took too many breaths. Herbert Janssen was a fine artist who, to my ears, really didn’t have the best German baritone voice. But by the electrical era, record producers finally started ensuring that the accompanists were at least pretty good and, at time, superb, thus from this point on we have few problems with the accompanists.

Elisabeth Schumann remains a controversial artist. Many listeners complain about her rubato  effects, which sounded quite out-of-date by the 1930s, while others, like me, are mesmerized by the purity of her voice and her ability to color her tones. With that being said, she was too close to the microphone for Mondnacht, which rather ruins the effect she was clearly trying to make. If she had stepped back two paces, I think it would have come out fine.

Karl ErbTenor Karl Erb (1877-1958) was another of those singers who, like George Henschel, were lionized during their lifetimes only to be marginalized and then forgotten in later years. In his case, however, it was because the voice itself, though pleasant, wasn’t much to listen to; it was his artistry you went back to, over and over again, and he does not disappoint here in the four songs chosen for inclusion. Indeed, I would put him on the same high pedestal as Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, and that’s going some. A true interpretive and musical genius.

Ria Ginster, a German concert soprano who specialized in lieder, was sort of the female Karl Erb, except that her voice had a somewhat abrasive and metallic sound whereas Erb’s voice was quite pleasant, just small. But she too was a first-rate interpreter, as these songs show. (In fact, these specific pressings are the best I’ve ever heard of Ginster; not even her EMI LP or CD reissues ever sounded this good.) Willi Domgraf-Fassbaender’s one contribution to this set is beautifully sung and interpreted with passion, but perhaps a bit too much so—he sounds as if he’s delivering an Italian opera aria rather than a Schumann lied.

Metcalfe-CasalsI knew the name of Susan Metcalfe-Casals, the American mezzo who married Pau (Pablo) Casals, but had never heard her before. It was a somewhat small, dry voice, not unpleasant or defective in any way but not really a first-rate instrument. She was, however, a good interpreter, and perhaps we should cut her some slack since she was 59 years old when she made these discs, the only ones she ever made. Interestingly, these were not fully commercial recordings, but were made for HMV’s yellow label, for private distribution only.

CD 3 starts with a very famous recording, Aksel Schiøtz’ 1946 Dichterliebe with Gerald Moore, one of his very last recordings as a tenor. He suffered a stroke shortly thereafter, had to stop singing for nearly three years, and could only come back as a baritone. The Dichterliebe is a very good one, but it’s been available on Danacord for more than a decade. The three songs recorded in 1949 as a baritone are also quite good, and in fact on these the voice sounds very tenor-ish; it would be a few years before he completely lost the brightness on top. By 1949, he merely lost his highest notes, B and C, but still had the tenor timbre.

Frida Leider was, of course, one of the two greatest Wagnerian sopranos of her time, the other being Florence Austral. Both were eclipsed in 1935 by the arrival of Kirsten Flagstad on the international scene, but by 1939 Leider’s voice was on the decline and she soon gave up the Wagnerian roles. These 1943 lieder recordings are among her very last; the voice is bit more fluttery than in the past, but she was still a fine artist if rather too loud an interpreter for this delicate music. (Her accompanist, Michael Raichausen, is also too slow.) Baritone Hans Hermann Nissen was also a Wagnerian who sang Hans Sachs in Toscanini’s famous 1937 performance of Die Meistersinger. He, too, is a fairly straightforward, exuberant singer, but at least he chose a song that fit that style of interpretation.

Nielsen-CrawleyFlora Nielsen (1900-1976), another little-known singer nowadays, was a Canadian soprano whose real name was Sybil Crawley. She started out her career as a soprano, and was still one when she made these recordings, but later switches to mezzo-soprano. The voice sounds very “British,” if you know what I mean: tight, laser-like tonal focus, very little vibrato, almost an edgy quality, but still a decent quality timbre. She also sounds like a mezzo, even here. As an interpreter she’s so-so. These are more curiosities than anything else. And of course everyone who listens to Wagner knows who Hans Hotter was. Apparently he suffered throughout his life from asthma, and this is what caused the frequent wobble in his voice, but when at his best he was incomparable as an interpreter. Curiously, he chose to record Mondnacht, but surprisingly he pulls it off, in part because the voice is steady as a rock here, even if you never in a million years would think of Mondnacht as a song for a bass-baritone.

Schmitt-WalterKarl Schmitt-Walter (1900-1985) is the next little-known singer. Joe Pearce claims that he was one of the most popular baritones in Germany, even better liked in the 1930s than Willi Domgraf-Fassbaender, that he made films and recorded a lot of crossover material on 78s and LPs well into the 1960s, but truth to tell, I’ve never heard or heard of him before. It was a nice, light voice, and he was clearly a fine interpreter; both of his songs here are very well sung. He rode the voice on the breath with perfect ease, and though the voice obviously lacked size it was of a fine quality. Mezzo Elisabeth Höngen is another famous name, but I doubt if many have heard her from as far back as 1946, when this recording of Schlief die Mutter endlich ein was made. The voice was much lighter and brighter than in the 1950s and ‘60s, and she sings with wonderful energy and engagement. Her accompanist, Hans Zipper, is also quite zippy!

We next hear four very famous singers. French baritone Pierre Bernac also qualifies as a Karl Erb-type singer: a pleasant if not really beautiful voice, but outstanding interpretation. One will search far and wide to hear lighter, more engaging singing from Elisabeth Schwarzkopf in 1951, and of course Fischer-Dieskau was a great singer regardless of era. Victoria de los Angeles was never much of an interpreter of anything, except perhaps Madama Butterfly, but she had a gorgeous voice.

The last CD, titled “Legendary Lied Cycle Recordings,” starts with Gerhard Hüsch’s 1936 recording of Dichterliebe which I felt only has his outstanding vocal quality to recommend it. As for me, I not only prefer Schiøtz’ version to his but also the 1935 recording by Charles Panzéra and Alfred Cortot…but it’s typical of Germans to assume that only a German baritone could deliver a “great” performance. A Dane and a Frenchman doing a better job on German lied than a German? Impossible! But so it was although, on re-listening to it, there are some interesting interpretive touches here that somehow escaped me the first time I heard it. So maybe it’s not really legendary, but it is pretty good overall, though “Aus alten Marchen” is taken too slowly and has some extra decelerandos in it to boot.

Faruenliebe labelHappily, Profil chose to include Lotte Lehmann’s earlier 1928 recording of Frauenliebe und Leben rather than her later recording. Although this has an orchestral arrangement, it is somewhat tasteful for its time despite the drippy string portamento (probably arranged by the conductor, Frieder Weissmann), and in 1928 Lehmann still had the youthful bloom on her voice that was gone by the mid-1930s. Indeed, the only fault in her singing here—which only became worse with age—is that she took too many breaths in the middle of phrases, even those that were fairly easy to sing. Nonetheless, this is clearly a great performance in every respect, truly worthy of preservation. Listen particularly to “Du ring an meinem Finger,” where she not only interprets the words like the great actress she was but also binds the phrases together perfectly. Seven years on, she couldn’t sing half this well.

We end with Friedrich Schorr’s 1937-38 recording of Liederkreis with Fritz Kitzinger at the piano. The famous baritone’s voice was not in as good estate here as it was in the late 1920s-early ‘30s, but although there is some obvious wear on the voice (he gave up singing by 1940 and turned to teaching) the tonal deterioration was not as pronounced as Lehmann’s by this time. As mentioned earlier, Schorr was alternately pretty good and great in his interpretations, and he is so here. Not every song is interpreted fabulously, but most are quite good and some are truly great. More interestingly, in some songs (a good example is “Die Stille”), one can actually “hear” the face behind the voice, and he lightens his voice even more than Hotter did for “Mondnacht.”

Thus we come to the end of our Schumann survey, and I would be remiss if I didn’t give the absolute highest praise to restoration engineer Holger Siedler for this set. Although he often left in a bit more of the original surface noise than I like, each and every track on this set is engineered perfectly—so much so that, even in the early acoustic recordings, you can actually hear some of the natural studio resonance, which is almost miraculous. I would place his restoration of these discs even higher than not only my own but also of Ward Marston and Seth Winner, both of whom have done some very high-quality remastering of older records. I’m sure that he didn’t have mint copies of every record in this set to work from, but it sounds like it, and for that I’d give him a “What a Performance!” award just for the remastering.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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