Lieder (Brahms and Schumann)

Schumann and Brahms “Lieder on Record” (HMV Treasury RLS 1547003; 8 records) is a limited edition, with a limited appeal. Like its illustrated brochure, it is an album full of faded reproductions. Only the voices have faces; the pianists are often anonymous and inaudible as well as undocumented and invisible. The “lieder” include duets and quartets in English, French, Italian and Russian, with verses left out and orch­estras brought in. That lax interpretation is well matched by many of the earlier performances, in the grand old tradition of Schlamperei. In this world, Susan Metcalfe is “truly one of the very great”, while Panzera singing in French shows what is seriously called his “perfect affinity with the German lied”. Once accept those terms, though, and the Treasury offers fair value. Some 180 songs, mainly old favourites, are rendered by 77 singers; and enthusiasts can no doubt find something to admire in most of the items. Austere lied-devotees, however, will be at a loss. There are only 130 different songs, often in indifferent performance; some 40 are not lieder at all; another 20 were previously unpublished, for all too audible reasons. Besides, all real lied-lovers will surely already own the Schiøtz Dichterliebe, for example, and the Kipnis Brahms; they will also rightly deplore the total absence of Ferrier.

     So perhaps the best of this box is the evidence it contains for the historian. Without the double­handed efforts of one man, Gerald Moore, with splendid support from Walter Legge, we might still be lumbered with such old junk as this set's 1902 Schrödter Nussbaum, which is dead wood all through. In the 1930s, for the first time on record, there was the right expressiveness from the keyboard together with a reasonable balance from the studio; quite a change from the pre­Moore donna and her tame pianissimist. Perhaps we can look forward to a future Lied Treasury with a brochure allotting names and dates and facts and faces to the instrumentalists no less than the singers?         


The Musical Times, Aug., 1984 (p. 447) © the estate of eric sams