The joy, the wonder, the awe, the eagerness.
John Austin | Kangaroo Ground, Australia | 02/03/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
""I am happy to have been associated with the music of the most Viennese of all composers Franz Schubert." Such was Elisabeth Schumann's modest way of referring, during a BBC radio broadcast in August 1951, to a very successful time in her career when her lieder recitals and recordings were in demand everywhere. During the 1930s she probably received more invitations to record individual songs, especially Schubert lieder, than any singer up to that time. Indeed, more items were recorded than could keep pace with release schedules, and several had to be exhumed from EMI vaults many years later. From her Schubert recorded legacy of 49 items, restoration engineer Ward Marston has prepared a selection of 28 for inclusion in this Naxos CD issue. Not all collectors will be happy with the selection. I regret that the first item, "Der Post" and also "An die Musik" were selected. The latter apparently simple song needs a singer with a sturdier lower register than Elisabeth Schumann retained in 1936.Elsewhere you will find much to treasure and a few things that might irritate. The joy, the wonder, the awe, the eagerness - all these elements in the poetry and the Schubert settings are brought to life. Sometimes the exuberance is a little out of control. Should a shepherd on a rock welcome the coming of spring with such vivacity as we hear here? Some now regard Elizabeth Schumann as a technically inadequate singer, but three great virtues cannot be gainsaid. For a female singer with a light soprano voice, her diction is brilliantly clear. She also controls her tone expertly. And greatest of all perhaps is her astonishing breath control. I have yet to hear any other female singer who can get all the way through "Auf dem Wasser zu singer" taking a breath only at the end of every second line. Irritating, possibly, to C21st century listeners might be the occasional swoops, whoops and pecks that typified this singer's art. I wish, too that someone had talked her out of her habit of occasionally ending a song with a kind of "dying fall". Critic John Steane, refers to this. when discussing her otherwise matchless performance of "Nacht und Traüme". Production values are generally high in this incredibly inexpensive issue. One minor error is that two varying dates are given for the singer's birth year. A mention is made in the notes of Elisabeth Schumann's long held belief that she was descended from the famous soprano of Beethoven's time Henriette Sontag. Since she herself lived long enough to discover that this German soprano, whose surname was the same as her own mother's, was not her ancestor, it seems pointless to allude to the belief in the notes that accompany this CD."