Elisabeth Schwarzkopf

My latest CD mini-review for the WRTI E-newsletter. You can read all my CD reviews here.

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf 1915-2006 (Box Set)

EMI Classics 80273
CD 1: Wolf Lieder
CD 2: Schubert, Schumann, R. Strauss Lieder
CD 3: Mozart, Humperdinck, Lehár, etc. Arias
CD 4: Encores and Folk Songs
CD 5: Bach Cantata 199, Mass in B minor excerpts, R. Strauss Four Last Songs, etc.

There’s almost nothing safe I can say about Elisabeth Schwarzkopf’s voice. Her lyric soprano expresses more character, and therefore, more contradiction, than any voice I know. It is a girl’s voice; it is a queen’s. No, a Marschallin’s, of course. A remote, otherworldly quality skirls through at times, but I think it’s the most human voice I’ve ever heard. It combines fragility and strength, technique and idiosyncrasy, marble-vaulted coolness and wood-beamed gemütlichkeit as none other.

Schwarzkopf was among the biggest of postwar stars well into the 1960s, but her fame rested not so much on leading-lady sheen (her movie-star beauty notwithstanding) as on characterization. She inhabited Mozart’s Donna Elvira and Countess roles, and it was as if Richard Strauss had written the Marschallin in Rosenkavalier just for her. Although she was a thoroughgoing traditionalist, she recorded, and defined, his still-new Four Last Songs—twice. And who remembers that it was Schwarzkopf who in 1951 created the role of Anne Trulove in Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress?

She propelled art song to an unparalleled level of popularity through recordings and live performance, unbelievably selling out Carnegie Hall in 1956 singing nothing but German lieder. And her career wasn’t just Schubert and Schumann; she introduced a large part of the world to Hugo Wolf, that viniest of lieder composers.

Get this CD set if you own nothing by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, or if you want to remind yourself of an era where smoothness shared center-stage with individuality. When she died in 2006 at age 90, an era passed with her. There is no one remotely like her: that, I can safely say.

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