Spanisches Liederbuch (Schwarzkopf, Fischer-Dieskau/Moore)*
In one sense this will sound to Wolfians like the most attractive set ever issued; in another it may not, quite. But anyone will want to own it who cares at all for these marvellous songs; never before has a complete Wolf songbook been recorded in its entirety by artists of this stature. Walter Legge has recently written that Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau are Wolf's greatest living interpreters. As the records show, the same is no less true of their accompanist here.
Such magicians need no help from the sleeve. On the other hand there was no need for the note to have eight mistakes in its first paragraph alone. These are duly translated into two other languages, while the actual words we are to hear sung are not translated at all - spoiling the discs for a ha'porth of thalers. There are minor irritations for the ear as well: the pitch is fractionally inconsistent (eg between nos 7 and 8), and there is some slight pre-echo.
Whether you can see other blemishes depends on your point of view. By any standards one can say that these are fine performances, with emphasis in the voice. The vocal recording balance is very bright; the piano's is backward. Most of the songs are transposed downwards, which lowers the tone of the music. In other ways too one has the occasional impression that the musical material is being tailored for the voice, in ways which will not suit everyone or be thought fitting everywhere.
But it is certainly displayed with exquisite taste. In each interpretation a musical essence is extracted and expressed. Elisabeth Schwarzkopf sounds characteristically sweet and sparkling. Every so often a bubble of suppressed hilarity is released to wink at the brim; In dem Schatten meiner Locken is almost comedy. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau is dark and dour in comparison. Every too often a note of despair is struck; Wer sein holdes Lieb verloren is almost tragedy. The contrast of relaxation and tension is also heard in the tempi. The beautifully sung Die ihr schwebet has more lullaby than storm in this version; while Joseph's song of solace, Nun wandre Maria, sounds a shade too fast for comforting. But in most songs these different perspectives afford a deeper view in a new dimension. The alternation of shine and shade enhances the bittersweet of Wolf's Spanish manner, like the chiaroscuro of Spanish painting. Each approach creates new songs. Thus in Eide, so die Liebe schwur some rather doughy musical material, unusually lacking in leaven, is made to rise again by sheer force of levity.
Conversely, the baritone's gravity attracts a flood-tide of new meaning, into (eg) Ich fuhr über Meer. Each approach also attains a special perfection whenever mood and music coincide completely (like Sagt, seid Ihr es or Komm o Tod). And perhaps it is no mere coincidence that some of the most striking successes are achieved in songs in their original keys, for example the superlative account of Geh Geliebter and Ach wie lang die Seele schlummert. Again, this is no less true of Gerald Moore, of whose performance throughout one can only say that it alone would make these records well worth having. By putting his art entirely at the composer's service he achieves perfect freedom of expression; he has the whole meaning of the music at his finger-tips. lf only we could just have a little extra volume from him - if of memoirs, then called perhaps “Am I Loud Enough?”.
The Musical Times, Sept. 1968 (p. 825) © the estate of eric sams