Loewe Goethe settings (Fischer-Dieskau/Demus)




Some records seem to be aimed at the archivist. This one deserves a wider audience; but it will no doubt remain a disc for the discriminating.

    Loewe had a genius for dressing up scenes and stories in matching music. He would have made a marvellous cinema pianist; and he was a professional singer. So his ballads tend to sound as if they had been begotten on bel canto by the school of velocity, by Czerny out of Bellini. As Tovey sensibly said, in comparing Loewe's Erlkönig with Schubert’s, the former is silver rather than gold. Hence it is nearly as valuable, and well worth mining. But that involves working through, not just playing over.

    So teachers of music, or indeed of German, could use these 15 Goethe settings as class material for comparison and comment on (say) how Loewe taught Wolf (their versions of Gutmann und Gutweib) or learned from Schubert (Im Vorübergehn of 1836 is surely an overflow from Fülle der Liebe, first published in 1835) or vied with Schumann (e.g. in Die wandelnde Glocke, or Gottes ist der Orient). And of course Loewe has his own winning way with words. Freibeuter is a technically unpolished gem of a song about a rough diamond; Der Totentanz is a rattling good yarn about a skeleton. The moment in Der Zauberlehrling (The Sorcerer's Apprentice) where the bisected new broom sweeps doubly clean is most ingeniously illustrated first by a two-part invention and then by divisions in augmentation. In the song of the lynx-eyed look-out on the watch tower, Zum Sehen geboren (Faust, ii) the contemplative and visionary music is raised to still greater heights by Goethe's exalted lyric.

    In that song I missed the vital expressive piano cresc assai at “Ich seh in die Ferne”. But otherwise the performances seem well-nigh perfect; and the translations are likewise admirable. A record for most Lieder-lovers and all Loewe-lovers.


The Musical Times, Nov. 1971 (p. 1079) © the estate of eric sams