Gramophone favourite recordings
In the bad old days, some singers and listeners used to believe that the Lied was just a weird kind of aria, lacking lyrical melody and dramatic top notes; and if there's no bel canto, and you can't bellow, where's the fun? Lieder have a far more informed following now, thanks to pioneers like Walter Legge. But I think there's plenty of evidence that the genre is still not properly appreciated in some quarters —including the headquarters of some record companies (oh, those slovenly sleeves, those travestied translations). So perhaps I might try to expound the criteria, for what they are worth, that govern my selection. First, the voice must vividly evoke the verse. It's almost better to sing flat than to sing flatly. The spoken poetry has to be sensed under the vocal line, diffusing colour and flavour into the music, just as it did in the composer's mind. On this ground Madame Schwarzkopf is nonpareil; her latest Lieder recital with Geoffrey Parsons on HMV ASP 3124 (3/76) selects itself. So does Dame Janet Baker's Schumann on HMV ASD3217, 7/76), and for the same reason. Compare this account of A Woman's Life and Love with her own earlier version. Each is beautifully sung, but this time the life and love embrace the words as well as the music; and how they both respond. So does Barenboim's piano. And this is the second essential; the keyboard too must be strikingly expressive. A virtuoso can transfuse fresh life into the latterly somewhat stylized vein of Fischer-Dieskau's Wolf interpretations; hence the choice of the Mörike songs on DG 2530 584 (3176) and the three-record set DG 2740 156 (11/76) with Richter and Barenboim respectively. But soloists, however gifted, tend to be less impressive in terms of my final criterion, namely integration. The Lied form symbolizes the feelings of the individual; so singer and pianist must ideally be as one. My belief is that such a union is best solemnized by Parsons; which may offer some further confirmation of my first choice.
© gramophone, 1976