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Elisabeth Schwarzkopf
15 Mar 2009

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Soprano

This DVD contains the contents of four televised recitals of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, with no way of telling from the information provided whether the recitals are presented complete or not.

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Gerald Moore

Medici Arts 3085268 [DVD]

$19.99  Click to buy

As the last section on this disc, from Brussels in 1969, only features two selections (two pleasant but negligible Menotti songs), making assumptions on the completeness of the others wouldn’t be advised.

The best part of the disc comes in the first half of its 90 minutes, with two television studio recitals filmed in London; the first from 1961 in black and white, the second from 1970, in color. With famed accompanist Gerald Moore (who throws in a sly bit of self-promotion at one point by asking, “Am I too loud?”), placing these two recitals back to back gives a point of reference for relating to Schwarzkopf’s late career. In 1961, the voice and manner combine seamlessly in a professional, disciplined performance. In place of spontaneity comes a poised, well-rehearsed artistry. The selections tend to the lighter side here, opening with a slight Mozart number (“Die kleine Spinnerin”), through Schubert’s “An die Musik,” and closing with two Hugo Wolf selections. Nine years later, Schwarzkopf opens up, braving some English spoken interludes, and moving about the studio, making sure to shift her chiffon-type dress with every change of stance. She begins again with Mozart, but initially the passing years can be heard in some slight intonation lapses and warbliness. As the recital proceeds, the voice settles. However, the affectations that non-admirers of Schwarzkopf complain about interfere at times, with too-knowing a wink here, too downcast a glance there. Taken together, both recitals still serve as a classic portrait of how to present and sing lieder, in a way that respects the tradition and manages to connect to an audience.

The next recital, from Paris in 1967, finds Schwarzkopf with the Orchestre National de l’ORTF, conducted by one Berislav Klobucar. If it weren’t for the date and grainy black and white footage, some viewers might suppose this recital came after the 1970 London one. Schwarzkopf is simply not in good voice. Whatever slips in intonation appeared in those London recitals are minor compared to some very painful notes here, and often the voice lacks support. Again, Mozart begins the recital, with two numbers also sung in the 1970 recital (“Männer suchen sets zu naschen” and “Ich möchte wohl der kaiser sein”). Schwarzkopf can manage these numbers well enough, relying on charm and the folksy simplicity of the melodies. She then moves to challenge of Verdi’s scene for Desdemona from Otello. Here Schwarzkopf over-emotes, as if to cover for the breathy line and attenuated top notes. Six Richard Strauss orchestral songs follow, but the glow and security of the voice does not return. Perhaps the effort required to project over the orchestral background exacerbates the compromised state of her voice, but Klobucar seems to be keeping the orchestra in balance (though the playing isn’t much to be admired, especially in the Verdi).

Medici Arts chose a portrait of the singer from her younger years for the cover of the DVD. Confusingly, the contents listing on the back cover is arranged by composer rather than in the order actually presented. Then the booklet track listing doesn’t link the selections to track numbers, to facilitate quick location. On the positive side, subtitles are provided.

Fans will want this, of course, but anyone who appreciates fine lieder singing will appreciate the 1961 recital, surely, as well as the chance to compare it to the 1970 one for an understanding of how an established artist can maintain control late into the career. Think of the regrettable Paris concert and two songs from Brussels as insubstantial addenda.

Chris Mullins

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