Arias and Lieder (+ Beethoven) (Baker, Leppard)

Schubert, Beethoven: Arias and Lieder Dame Janet Baker (mezzo-soprano), English Chamber Orchestra and Choir conducted by Raymond Leppard (harpsichord, piano). Philips


I can see why the Beethoven arias are ranked as Side 1, which offers fine music enhanced by fine performance. A sufficient sample of the quality is the first Egmont song, in which the young heroine, Clärchen, announces her intention of enlisting as a soldier and falling on the foe. No doubt the enemy would be smitten, hip and thigh. Suitably supported by colourful strings, Dame Janet handsomely captures the Principal Boy dash and swagger that the music draws from Goethe's verses. We are similarly shown how even the rigid verbal stereotypes of Metastasio can be made moving and melting by sheer force and fire. But just turn over the disc and straightaway there's the other side of the coin. Of course it is uplifting for any part of Lazarus to be resurrected, and perhaps there is now some hope of new life on record for the whole corpus of that long-buried masterwork. But (apart from some delectably‑phrased singing) much of the rest sounds sadly un-Schubertian to me. The playing in the Rosamunde “Romanze” is now obtrusive (too loud at “sanft”), now inaudible (the clarinets have a right to be heard at “es ist so schön” because they're saying that too). The Grillparzer Ständchen (D920), as I hear it, misses the tone of mock-conspiratorial tenderness. The tempo is egged on so unflaggingly by the piano that the humour as well as the pace sounds forced, despite some smilingly relaxed moments from soloist and chorus. Finally the Alfonso und Estrella excerpt strikes me as misconceived. The idea of Andantino at crotchet = 120 is admittedly puzzling; but that surely can't be a sound reason for halving the marked speed. Estrella, like the Pirates of Penzance, is singing in perturbation of spirit about being forced by fate to an imminent departure. "Yes, but you don't go" seems fair comment; at this tempo the heroine could hardly be expected to move her­self, let alone us. So although the sound quality is good, the playing often admirable, and the singing consistently beautiful, I fear that this disc will be found (especially by Schubertians) far too one-sided.


© gramophone, Sept. 1977 (p. 469)