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American Record Guide, December 2008

These selections come from three projects, all recorded when Schwarzkopf was in her late 30s. She recorded 12 songs in 1952 with Edwin Fischer; they appeared here on Angel 35022, which I still have on my shelf. The songs with Gerald Moore—’Litanei’ and ‘Ungeduld’ from Die Schöne Müllerin—come from 1954, as do the Beethoven selections with Karajan.

She was, of course, one of the leading singers of her generation, a model of patrician elegance with the drive of a perfectionist. Schwarzkopf’s singing always sounded more planned than spontaneous; even simple songs would emerge with an arch sophistication. She used diction as an expressive tool, and her performances were more about communication than mere singing. Detractors found mannerism in her singing, but supporters no doubt found her originality and communicativeness in those very mannerisms. The Schubert songs are indeed special—carefully crafted and beautifully sung renditions of favorite pieces; every Schubert lover should know these. The Beethoven selections are also quite fine: deeply characterized and full of drama and passion. These are all the more remarkable because, according to Malcolm Walker’s notes, she sang neither aria on stage or in concert. (She did sing Marzelline in Fidelio, but not Leonore, which would have been too heavy a role for her.)

These performances have been excellently restored by Mark Obert-Thorn. A bit of background hiss remains, but the sound is quite clear and true. A wonderful release.

John Steane
Gramophone, November 2008

Particularly welcome is the inclusion of two arias by Beethoven, Ah, perfido! And the great solo of Leonore in Fidelio. These are astonishing performances. With a voice that is not really of the heroic-dramatic build usually associated with them, Schwarzkopf achieves an effect to rank with the greatest, and she does it by concentration of pure tone, gradation of volume and intense focus upon meaning and emotion. The “Abscheulicher” is by turn fierce, tender and exhilarated in its determination, and all to a degree that is quite exceptional whether on records or onstage…

Göran Forsling
MusicWeb International, October 2008

The first twelve tracks on this disc constitute one of the most famous Schubert recitals from the early LP era. Rarely if ever has Elisabeth Schwarzkopf sounded better or given so lovely and unaffected readings of German Lieder. One possible reason is that she was exceptionally inspired and one source for inspiration, apart from the songs themselves, may have been the presence of the legendary Edwin Fischer. He rarely, to my knowledge at least, appeared as accompanist but when he did he obviously managed to invest the piano part with that little extra that becomes the germ for great music-making. …In addition there is more than half an hour more music on the present issue and those recordings are also immensely interesting. First we get a wholly lovely interpretation of Litanei, a song that poses problems for the singer with its nine stanzas. Schwarzkopf and Moore make a consummate reading where every phrase, every inflexion is so well weighed and her tone so infallibly beautiful. Ungeduld, from Die schöne Müllerin is more ordinary—but ordinary Schwarzkopf is often in a league of its own anyway. There is though some occasional uncharacteristic strain.

The two Beethoven arias are unexpected pieces, neither of which she ever sang on stage or in the concert hall, and theoretically they should be on the heavy side for her. That she would be wonderful in the lyrical sections of Ah, perfido! was only to be expected but she also manages the dramatic outpourings with flying colours and she knows exactly the limitations of her vocal resources. There are a couple of low notes in Abscheulicher! where she is slightly uncomfortable, but otherwise hers is as good a reading as any I have heard – which goes some way to say that this is in no way a territory reserved for Hochdramatische singers in the Flagstad or Nilsson mould. With alert conducting and excellent playing from the original Philharmonia these are versions of the arias that require to be heard. The sound is more than acceptable.

Collectors of this Naxos series of Schwarzkopf reissues need not hesitate.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, May 2008

In the early part of the 1950’s the German-born soprano, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, had reached a high point of a distinguished career.

Though today remembered for her recordings of opera, she was also one of the outstanding lieder singers of her generation. Making a first visit to London in 1947 with the Vienna State Opera, it was to bring an offer to become a member of the fledgling Covent Garden Company. It was fortuitous as it also marked the beginning of her recording career for the Columbia label, going into the Abbey Road studio in 1952, with the pianist Edwin Fischer, to place on disc this group of Schubert lieder. In style it was a throwback to the days of Elizabeth Schumann, and like Schumann she employed a different voice to that which she used in opera. There were those little slids between notes she carried over from the yesteryears, while songs were characterised in an obvious way that was fashionable at the time. She chose an extremely popular programme that included, An die Musik, An Silvia, Im Fruhling, Nachtviolen and Gretchen am Spinnrade. At times Fischer has to clip notes to retain an immaculate ensemble with Schwarzkopf, but together they make a persuasive presentation of the music, and well able to hold a place against any in the catalogue. To the original LP release, Naxos have added two further songs with Gerald Moore as accompanist, and, rather incongruously, Beethoven’s Ah, perfido and an aria from Fidelio with the Philharmonia under Karajan. Fine singing, excellent playing.

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