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Barry Brenesal
Fanfare, January 2011

Although it’s never stated in the booklet for this rerelease, Gerard Souzay (1918–2004) undertook a concentrated study of Lieder with Lotte Lehmann. This was some years after having first trained at the Paris Conservatory with Vanni-Marcoux and Claire Croiza, then later with Pierre Bernac. If his voice’s ease of production bears the hallmark of Conservatory teaching, it is Lehmann that informs Souzay’s understanding of Schubertian style. The combination of intrinsic beauty of tone, effortless production, and deep musical understanding prove irresistible in this music. Souzay has been equaled on occasion, notably by Gerhard Hüsch and the young Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, but in my opinion he has never been surpassed.

Some have disagreed with such an assessment as this—and from opposing viewpoints. French critic Roland Barthes took the baritone to task for imposing unnecessary emotionalism on the text of songs through exaggerated phonetics, but I confess to finding none of this despite numerous LP rehearings. To the other side, across the Channel, a few British critics over the years have pigeonholed Souzay as a beautiful singer who sacrificed the drama in the music he sang, so as not to interfere with the clarity of the musical line, and the emission of tone. This dichotomy—dramatic singers vs. musical singers—lacks nuance. Souzay worked hard to comprehend and interpret the songs he performed, regardless of language, and whatever flaws he possessed, I admit to not finding a single instance where he sacrificed drama in these songs to unstrained vocal production. For all that I dearly love my Lieder recordings of Elena Gerhardt and especially Karl Erb, beauty does not preclude dramatic truth.

On the contrary: There are instances where several of Schubert’s songs clearly gain from being sung by a honeyed voice with no signs of strain. The easy lift of the tone in the melodic line in “Des Müllers Blumen” from Die schöne Müllerin furnishes one example. Certainly it’s possible to sing it insightfully with an audible degree of exertion, but just as surely that gets in the way of the pastoral image Schubert means to convey. “Many small flowers grow by the brook,” states the text, and we shouldn’t instead be paying attention to the miller wheezing as he clambers down to view them. Similarly, the trout in Die Forelle should dart swiftly, with great agility; the gentle breezes in Frühlingsglaube should stir lightly. At such times, one appreciates the lightness in turn of Souzay’s method. It never gets in the way of these images, but furnishes a medium that contributes to their realization.

Elsewhere Schubert requires something less static, and Souzay obliges. “Still ist die Nacht,” the narrator proclaims at the start of Der Doppelgänger, and the baritone emphasizes the “sh” of the start, as though to quiet us, and the final “t,” like a latch closing shut. As we hear that his beloved once lived in the house before us, a darker quality drifts through Souzay’s voice, not unlike the wraith that dogs his steps. The opening phrase of “Die Liebe hat gelogen” is sung softly—beautifully, again, but drained of vibrato, with a drag upwards on “Sorge” and “schwer” in the second phrase: a fine way of depicting a line that concerns sorrow’s oppression. The four voices of Erlkönig are subtly distinct, but memorable; the best part is probably Death’s lines, beginning “Ich liebe dich,” like a skull-splitting grin across a deathshead, never losing its sense of exquisite delight even as we are told the child will be taken if necessary by force. I’ve heard many versions of the song over the years; who hasn’t? But this one has never lost its appeal, where others that tried for greater vividness have seemed stagy and constrained with time. Combine all of this with the kind of expert accompaniment that Dalton Baldwin regularly provided to Souzay, and the clear, well-balanced sound that both EMI and Philips routinely gave him, and you have a winner of an album.

With one unfortunate exception. Regrettably, whoever ordered the contents of the disc titled Favorite Lieder for Newton Classics (and no credits are given) did nobody any favors. The list on the CD cover, in the booklet, and in the song translations online that the company thoughtfully provides, is seriously out of order. It also includes one song, Der Wanderer, D 493, twice, when in fact Rastlose Liebe is hiding behind that second listing. For those who buy the set, here are the cuts as described:

Der Wanderer, D 493

Auf der Bruck

Nacht und Träume

An Sylvia

Die Forelle

Der Zwerg

Erlkönig

Heidenröslein

Dithyrambe

Die Liebe hat gelogen

Der Doppelgänger, D 957

Frühlingsglaube

Der Schiffer

Wandrers Nachtlied II

Der Wanderer, D 493

Der Tod und das Mädchen

Ganymed

Im Abendrot

Der Musensohn

Normans Gesang

Erster Verlust

An die Musik

This is what you actually get:

Auf der Bruck

An Sylvia

Die Forelle

Der Zwerg

Heidenröslein

Dithyrambe

Die Liebe hat gelogen

Der Doppelgänger, D 957

Frühlingsglaube

Der Schiffer

Erlkönig

Nacht und Träume

Der Wanderer, D 493

Wandrers Nachtlied II

Rastlose Liebe, D 138

Der Tod und das Mädchen

Ganymed

Im Abendrot

Der Musensohn

Normans Gesang

Erster Verlust

An die Musik

It’s a nuisance. The transfers of the original discs recorded between 1961 and 1967, on the other hand, are extremely well handled. They are clear, with good equalization, and (I suspect) taken from the original analog tapes.

In short, scrambled works to one side, this is a fine album, and an effective tribute to one of the great recitalists of the 20th century.



Michael Tanner
BBC Music Magazine, December 2010

Performance
Recording

This is cultivated, beautiful singing, and Baldwin is a most sensitive accompanist. But the total effect is bland, and the great Schöne Müllerin cycle remains obstinately indoors.



Paul L Althouse
American Record Guide, November 2010

This is a wonderful performance of Die Schöne Müllerin, one that grows in impressiveness as it goes along. This is a very desirable reissue.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.






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1:47:17 PM, 22 December 2014
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