|About this Recording
8.111244 - LEHMANN, Lotte: Lieder Recordings, Vol. 3 (1941)
Lotte Lehmann (1888-1976)
By 1941, in her fifties Lotte Lehmann was gradually winding down her operatic career, but the long-serving, warm-hearted soprano was still very active in the field of Lieder, a genre that she advocated throughout her extensive career. For much of the time she had been a Victor artist, but now she had switched to Columbia, who allowed her to record Dichterliebe and bits of Winterreise, cycles usually associated with male singers, although she began with Frauenliebe und -Leben, a specifically female work, depicting a young woman falling in love, marrying, having a baby and then losing her husband. It is a cycle of open, unfettered and dedicated expression of love for a man. Somewhat frowned on given today's ideas on feminism, the wonderful setting by Schumann surely is its own justification, and Lehmann is the sincere, fully committed artist to make her own case for it.
Lehmann is not a singer to pull any punches. She wholly identifies with all the girl's emotions, and pours them out in her own, very generous terms. Her word-painting is, as ever, something to wonder at, as is her still-warm tone. Portamento is used in a way frowned on today, but it is part of her interpretative manner, and she uses it to telling effect throughout. If the reading is not to today's more fastidious taste so much the worse for that taste. If you let yourself relax into Lehmann's very personal ways, the rewards are huge. This is an instinctive, giving artist making Schumann's cycle her very own. Bruno Walter's playing is another matter - indulgence is needed to allow for some carelessness in his efforts, but - like his singer (a frequent colleague in the opera house) - his idiosyncrasies are forgiven for his many musical revelations.
The same can be said of his contribution to Dichterliebe; any mistakes are forgiven in his heartfelt, serene rendering of the long postlude. As for Lehmann once again impassioned delivery, free declamation, utter conviction are of the essence as the first song immediately reveals. With what meaning she invests the text throughout: 'Nur einer kennst meinen Schmerz' in 'Und wüssten's die Blumen', for instance, rends the heart. Sometimes intentionally, sometimes involuntarily breaths are taken in the most unlikely places, but that, and some other moments in terms of pure vocalisation, are forgotten and forgiven before the sheer outpouring of the whole. Any soul left untouched by her tremendous 'Ich grolle nicht' must be damned. Any male heart that doesn't capitulate to the eroticism of 'Ich will meine Seele tauchen' or the eager appeal of 'Allnächtlich im Traume' must be hard indeed.
Lehmann, greatly daring given the fact that this work had in her time remained the province of male singers, undertook to perform Winterreise, over some months in 1940-41, now with her regular accompanist of the day, Paul Ulanowski. Dismissing criticism that this is a manonly cycle, and putting out of court preconceived ideas about the right voice for the work, she offered a bold, romantic reading that identifies both with the bleak setting and the protagonist's awful situation.
Although we do not have the complete performance here, enough is suggested in the chosen songs to get the flavour of Lehmann's interpretation, one only matched by a woman in recent times by the equally individual and involved Brigitte Fassbaender. Like her successor, Lehmann identifies with the spirit of each song, is not averse to ritenuti ad portamenti as a means of expression, and, more important, lives every word of the text in a wholly involving way - take, as an example, the final two lines of 'Frühlingstraum' where she balances the timescale of past and present to perfection. Ulanowsky is a faithful partner in all she does, but for better or worse, lacks the inspired if wayward quality of Walter.
As a singer, Lehmann was a force of nature who obeyed her own musical and interpretative inclinations rather than following the stylistic verities. Nothing she ever did was lightly undertaken or ill-considered; everything came from the heart and went to it. A new generation of listeners may at first be disconcerted by her singing but I am sure in the end they will, like me, be captivated by a unique artist.
© 2007 Alan Blyth
These recordings were originally made on lacquer master discs featuring quieter surfaces and a wider frequency range than standard 78 rpm shellacs of the time could offer. At their best, the sound is comparable to early 1950s monaural tape recordings. The transfers have been effected from LPs taken from these lacquers. Some imperfections in the original lacquer masters (not from the LP copies) remain in the current transfer. Although Columbia's engineers, like Victor's before them, recorded Lehmann far too close to the microphone in a small, rather dry studio, I have not added any artificial reverberation so that the details of the original recordings may come through unobscured.
Robert Schumann: Frauenliebe und –Leben, Op. 42
Robert Schumann: Dichterliebe, Op. 48
Franz Schubert: Winterreise, D. 911 (excerpts)
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