Lieder (Krenn, Werba/Price, Garvey) + Schwarzkopf: Songs (Moore)

Lieder [+ Schubert: Lieder] (Werner Krenn/Erik Werba); DECCA

Lieder (Leontyne Price/David Garvey); RCA

[Elisabeth Schwarzkopf: Songs (Geoffrey Parsons, Gerald Moore); HMV]



Werner Krenn's voice is sweet and true and earnest, which sounds an ideal match for the romantic lovesong. But mere fidelity is high among the seven deadly virtues. Nor is it much redeemed by constant slight inconstancy. The partners don't always appear together. In Das Bild the climax is thrice marrad by indifferent timing; in Schwanengesang there is an injudicious separation. Erinnerung has an unexplained kink in the vocal line; the usual B at the end of bar 9 etc is sung as D sharp, ten times. In the same song the piano's written accents are barely audible; elsewhere its unwritten accents are al1 too audible. Of course many of the songs are quite acceptably sung and played; but one expects that. Most of the Schubert items are otherwise unrecorded except by Fischer-Dieskau; but nowadays one expects that too. These performances are just insufficiently distinguished both in and among themselves. It's a disappointment; Werner Krenn's Schöne Müllerin promised more than this fair run of the mill.

    Leontyne Price is better value. Her choice, though naturally spotlighting the dramatic, finds a wider range in one composer than Krenn in two. It includes, rather perplexingly, Schöne Wiege, which (despite its title) surely calls for a man's voice. Heiss mich nicht reden, which in Schumann's oddly hectic setting suggests the mad scene from Wilhelm Meister, is here (in its only recorded appearance) sensibly put under close restraint, making a convincing picture of baffled frenzy. For Frauenliebe und -leben however the voice seems too big and brilliant, too hard to cut down to homely domestic facets; it's like trying to symbolize modest patience with a diamond solitaire. Similarly the disc as a whole seems to me slightly off centre, for reasons which (with commendable open-heartedness) are displayed on the sleeve. “Leontyne Price” (caps) “sings Robert Schumann” (bold); “David Garvey at the Piano”. This style turns the Lied inside-out, and won't do its devotees much good either. The right billing would be more like “X plays Schumann, with Y at the Vocal Organ”, where X and Y are the same type. Such readings as “Du-hu Ring”, or “meinem” for “deinem” in Er der Herrlichste should have been corrected; honestly, one ought to distinguish between meum and tuum. The pity is that we could have had full value with small change. Rather less dominance from the voice, rather more assertion from the piano, and both artists could have been credited with a more profitable balance and a more substantial joint account of Schumann. As it is, the voice remains in capitals and the keyboard in lower case, exactly as advertised.

    Rather more democratic is the reigning queen of the Lied (would Elisabeth II be the right title?). A wide range of subjects and territory is here represented - perhaps too wide, since many more people will be at home in some parts of it than in all. However, there is always room for exploration. Anyone inclined to dismiss Strauss's Ophelia as a failure can learn much from this deeply-immersed performance. Even more impressive is Die drei Zigeuner, in which Liszt contrives to make Lenau's wistfully pessimistic metaphor of the gipsy life sound like the decline and fall of the Romany empire. From that high camp to the domestic whimsy of the ideal home in Loewe's Kleiner Haushalt, via Grieg, Mahler, Schumann and Chopin (an underrated songwriter, on this showing) is a far cry, but well within the emotive range and compass of this great singer. We hear, as fresh and clear as ever, her sovereign concern for whatever is vulnerable and transient. Those tender tones and touches of affection or amusement sound like the singing voice of the music itself.

    The two Schubert Suleika songs should have been the pearls of this recital. But somehow neither seems quite rounded or lustrous enough. Perhaps lowering the tone takes the shine off. One or two aspects are actually obscure. In that topflight featherweight Hänflings Liebeswerbung the short final grace-note in each verse may suggest a gay flick of the tail and a cheerful chirrup; but I doubt whether it will be greeted thus by many musicologists. Similarly the tenth and twenty-second bars of the final B major section of Suleika I ought surely to share the same vocal line; the variant looks more like the work of the compositor than the composer. On that point it is perhaps worth noting that only on this record are the pianists (Gerald Moore, for the Schumann Suleika only) allotted the same fount as the singer. In all three cases, the caps fit; and Geoffrey Parsons would merit an exclamation mark as well, in any context.

    One of these days it may occur to record­companies that song recitals are a potentially in­valuable adjunct to the study of languages and letters. I look forward with relish to the first course of what might be called Liederature. Meanwhile we rely on the singer's diction together with the texts and translations provided. For these three discs the oral marks are excellent (Leontyne Price sings German with distinction); and so is all the written work except HMV's, which is not up to standard.


The Musical Times, Sept., 1971 (p.p. 869-870) © the estate of eric sams