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Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, July 2007

The third volume in Naxos’s Lotte Lehmann lieder recording series brings us to the three cycles she recorded in Los Angeles during 1941, though here she recorded only extracts from Winterreise. Lehmann was still in generally fine voice and though it’s idle to pretend that she had emerged technically unscathed over the years – there’s some fraying at the top of her tessitura – of far more importance is the cultivation of expression that we hear throughout the cycles.

In a sense it would have been better for her to have been accompanied by someone other than Bruno Walter in the Schumann cycles. Inspirational he may have been but he was also leaden. Starting as early as Seit ich ihn geseh’n, the first of Frauenliebe und –Leben , we find in his playing a rather pedantic, often pedagogic heaviness that occasionally seems to inhibit tempi. Lehmann though employs a full range of expressive devices in her response to the texts – diminuendi and expressive rubato in Er der Herrlichste von Allen , the flourishing chest voice in Ich kann’s nicht fassen nicht glauben , constant shading and colour without impeding the naturalness of the declamation. The boxy recording doesn’t flatter her tonally and neither does it enhance Walter who’s especially exposed in Helft mir, ihr Schwestern . Regarding studio conditions I’m nevertheless happy that Mark Obert-Thorn has resisted the temptation slightly to cushion the sound through adding artificial reverberation. Colleagues of his would probably have done so in the same way that some have added reverb to the notoriously dry Parisian studios of the 1930s – but resistance to this temptation is the better solution as far as I’m concerned.

Dichterliebe was recorded almost six weeks after the sessions for Frauenliebe und –Leben . Again Walter, for all his insights, proves technically fallible. Beyond him Lehmann’s urgency of expression, her sensitive power and her acute awareness of the balance of weight and clarity lifts the performance to the heights. One senses Walter’s particular insights too but even in, say, Hor ich das Liedchen klingen, where his imagination is at its most acute we find that he’s unable to inflect with anything like the finesse of his partner. That relatively turgid quality hems in Lehmann from time to time – try Aus alten Marchen winkt es where her natural buoyancy of rhythm exists almost in parallel to his own circumscribed efforts.

Paul Ulanowsky may not have possessed Walter’s unerring ear for text and meaning but he was a better accompanist. The gradations of tone are more sympathetic; the natural rhythm of his playing is crisper. She’d earlier recorded eleven songs from Winterreise for Victor and this Columbia set of nine proves similarly inspired in interpretative stance. To take one single example amongst so many is invidious but listen to her use of fluid portamenti in Wasserflut and how she conveys textual subtleties through the most expressive of means. As before she employs the full range of voice, from a slightly strident top to the kind of chest voice she employed so freely in Frauenliebe und –Leben . And as before the freedom of her declamation and the frequent use of ritenuti and other such devices gives her performance a powerfully personalised stamp. In the face of this both here and in Dichterliebe the voice type and sex of the singer is rendered if not irrelevant at least of marginal significance.

As noted Obert-Thorn’s work here is respectful of the originals and allows one to hear Lehmann in the full flood of her intensely communicative and overwhelmingly passionate maturity.

Goran Forsling
MusicWeb International, June 2007

"Naxos have already issued two volumes in this series with Lotte Lehmann’s Lieder recordings, (Vol.1 review; Vol. 2 review) and a fourth volume is due for release in June. I waxed lyrical about the first two and for the present one I am also full of admiration, even though it is more controversial. ....About Frauenliebe und –Leben there need be no question-marks at all, since this is a cycle seen from the female’s point of view. Die-hard feminists may still frown upon the lack of equality but there is no denying the deeply felt and eloquently expressed poems by Adalbert von Chamisso. Schumann’s settings of them from the Lieder year 1840 are among his finest. ....Lehmann’s voice in 1941 had aged slightly, showing occasional signs of shrillness, emphasised here by the close and very clear recording. On the other hand her voice had retained much of its bloom and there is warmth aplenty.....As with the songs on vol. 2 it is deeply moving to hear the female voice changing the perspective of the songs, making them more frail. But Gefrorne Tränen becomes gripping through her use of almost contralto chest register. In Frühlingstraum with its quick changes between bright thoughts of Spring and the darker sides of the singer’s predicament she is masterly expressive and Paul Ulanowsky is also at his best here. In the last song, Der Leiermann, the chill of the singing and the grinding of the organ send ice shivers down the spine."

"My admiration for Lotte Lehmann as a Lieder singer is not only undiminished – it has grown further. The close recording of the voice leaves almost no barrier between the singer and the listener but in this case lends the songs a rare intimacy."

David Denton
David's Review Corner, April 2007

Born in Germany in 1888, Lotte Lehmann was only twenty-two when the Hamburg State Opera placed under contract. Thrown headlong into the big dramatic roles she was only twenty-four when she gave her Wagner premier singing Else in Lohengrin. A particular favourite with Richard Strauss, for whom she gave several first performances, Lehmann was a big success at New York's Metropolitan Opera, making he debut there in 1934 and staying with the company through the Second World War singing a wide range of roles from Tosca to Sieglinde. By the time this recording was made she was already in her fifties, and though still singing opera, she was changing her attention to song recitals. Artistically able to hide much of the ravages time had brought to her voice, she had recently changed her recording company and was now a Columbia recording artist, and it was they who agreed to her singing two works usually taken by the male voice. That I don't think the female voice is remotely suitable to Dichterliebe, a score taking her well above her comfort zone, Frauenliebe und - Leben is gently characterised and most desirable. She chose the extracts from Winterreise so as to minimise the loss of the male voice. Bruno Walter gave perceptive accompaniments, though Lehmann was placed far too close to the microphone, Paul Ulanowsky joining her in the Schubert,

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