In a two-CD set, it is possible to gain a perspective on these periodic recitals. Starting with the 1958 Festspiel, the recording captures Irmgard Seefried accompanied by Erik Werba, with some of the composer’s representative Lieder. This follows with music from a decade later in 1968 with Ingeborg Hallstein, again with Werba. The other performances follow in quicker succession: 1975’s Liederabend with Peter Schreier accompanied by Jörg Demus and Helen Donath with her pianist husband Klaus; in 1983, Edith Mathis with Heinz Medjimorec, piano; 1984, Edita Gruberova, soprano, and Irwin Gage piano; and in addition, Walter Berry sang Mozart’s Kleine deutsche Kantate, KV 619, with Werba accompanying him. (Gruberova also performed this work in her 1984 Liederabend.) All in all, this set of documents some of the finest exponents of Lieder of the time in performances, as underscored by the rubric on the discs, “Grosse Mozartsänger” (“Great Mozart singers”).
Some of the music is familiar, as with “Das Veilchen,” KV 476, which was part of several recitals, and it is possible to compare the performances by sopranos Hallstein and Gruberova, and enjoy the piece from the tenor Schreier. All three singers offer fine readings of this piece, and it is fortunate to have both in a retrospective collection like this one. Other pieces are not as widely known, as with “Der Zauberer,” KV 472, which Donath and Mathis included in their recitals, or “An Chloe,” KV 524, as performed by Seefried and, later, by Schreier. While most of the songs are indeed Lieder, Schreier, Mathis and Gruberova include several of Mozart’s chansons, such as the Ariette KV 308 “Dans un bois solitaire” (which Schreier renders in German translation and Mathis sings in French) or the Italian canzone “Un moto di gioia,” KV 579, which was part of Seefried’s and Gruberova’s programs. All in all, the collection not only preserves the works of these fine singers, but also offers a fine introduction to the solo vocal music of Mozart.
The performances are generally fine, and it is useful to hear multiple performances of the same pieces to gain a sense of the range of interpretation possible within this part of Mozart’s repertoire. The vibrant approach of Peter Schreier conveys a wonderful engagement with the music as found in the nuances of dynamic within the phrases, as the tenor uses in his performance of “An Chloe.” His effortless approach to higher range matches the control apparent in Schreier’s lower pitches. When compared to other singers singing this literature, Matthis seems more passionate in her interpretations, which are solid and convincing. The performances by Gruberova also merit attention, and her interaction with Irwin Gage demonstrates the way in which these pieces demand the attention such a pianist brings to their execution.
The sound of some examples, as with those of Irmgard Seefried, resembles studio recordings, while others, like those of Ingeborg Hallstein include some audience sounds including, at times, applause. Throughout these recordings, the balance between voice and accompaniment is generally good, with some recitals betraying a more aggressive accompanist, others with the singers placed closer to the microphone, as with Schreier. While some details may be easier to hear in the later recordings, like those of Gruberova from 1984, the quality is uniformly high.
In terms of the set itself, it is useful to have the full text and translations keyed to the tracks. In fact, Orfeo was good to use a single text when pieces are repeated and to include the listing of the tracks in which they also occur. At times the German is rendered differently than found in the music or, in some cases, sung, and those seeking English translations of the song texts will not find them in this rather slim booklet. Nevertheless, the concept behind the recording and, more importantly, the legacy it represents, is honored well in the selection of the pieces by some of the finest exponents of Lieder from the latter part of the twentieth century.
James L. Zychowicz