Lieder (Janowitz, Gage)

Schubert: Lieder. Gundula Janowitz (soprano), Irwin Gage (piano). DGG


In her first Lieder recording, Gundula Janowitz offers a mode of interpretation much after the usual fashion of opera-singers. Less usually. her design is publicly displayed on the sleeve, where she is on record as justifying a style that emphasizes melodic rather than verbal expressiveness. "The intelligibility of the text ranks second to the vocal line". All dedicated Lieder-lovers have a weary familiarity with this approach and its possible consequences. The Lied can so easily become a kind of aria, arranged into a programme of famous favourites (lavishly productive of encores and bouquets) with the pianist relegated to the status of escort, and often kept waiting. Instead of a Gesamtausgabe text we are then offered the Peters edition, complete with wrong notes or dubious readings. Inessential words are stressed, while vital phrases are understated and so on.

    There's no denying that each of these points can he exemplified. from these performances, some of them (oh, those uncalled-for rallentandos) far too readily. Yet there is also excellent quality here, both vocal and instrumental, with interpretative insight as well as beauty of tone. The pianist, though naturally discreet (and to my ears rather under-recorded), has a most musicianly awareness and presence, except for some fleeting moments of inaudibility in Du bist die Ruh. And even if Gundula Janowitz is envisaging the Lied as a branch of opera (arguably up the wrong tree) her warmth of tone and diction make it flower most attractively. Nor is the result just a pretty but superficial picture of Schubert in blossom time; there is real depth and perspective, especially in the three Walter Scott songs, D837-9.

    To bring these aspects into final effective focus however will in my view entail some adjustment to the announced angle of approach. The words must at least keep pace with the melody in significance, just as the piano must at least keep abreast of the voice. If in either instance the latter takes the lead, then at that moment the listener loses the Lied.


© gramophone, Nov. 1977 (p. 874)