C1053. HANS SCHMIDT-ISSERSTEDT Cond.WDR & NDR Ensembles, w.Stefania Woytowicz, Christa Ludwig, Nicolai Gedda & Boris Carmeli: MANZONI REQUIEM (Verdi). (Germany) Archipel 0480, Live Performance, 1961. - 0801439903098
“Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt is one of those conductors whose work was renowned far more among the ranks of his peers (and of very serious listeners) than among the general classical audiences of his era. A believer in strict rhythmic precision, transparent orchestral textures, and the avoidance of excessive mannerisms, Schmidt-Isserstedt and his work were loved by fellow musicians and listeners committed enough to seek it out, eclipsed as it often was by his more flamboyant and well-known rivals. It is a measure of his place in the pantheon of early and middle twentieth century conductors that, while only two or three of his recordings are represented on CDs from major labels, dozens of his performances appear on private collectors labels.
Schmidt-Isserstedt was born in Berlin in 1900 and studied music in Berlin at the university. Although his interest in music extended into modern and contemporary works, his first love was Mozart and he authored a dissertation on the Italian influences in Mozart's early operas. He conducted in different theaters and also composed music during the earlier part of his career, including several orchestral works, Lieder, chamber pieces, and one opera (HASSAN GEWINNT), which was performed for the first time in 1928. During the 1930s, he began recording regularly, most notably in a series of concerti with the legendary violin virtuoso Georg Kulenkampff, in which he conducted the Berlin Philharmonic. Schmidt-Isserstedt remained in Germany during the period of the Nazi regime, and in 1935 was appointed principal Kappelmeister at the Hamburg State Opera. He became the opera director at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin in 1943 and the company's general music director in 1944.
Schmidt-Isserstedt was among the less-controversial musicians working in Germany during the war, and his work and career continued virtually uninterrupted by the Allied victory and the fall of the Nazi regime in 1945. He founded the North German Radio (or NDR) Symphony Orchestra in Hamburg during 1945, which he directed until his retirement in 1971. Schmidt-Isserstedt successfully took the NDR Symphony Orchestra on tour in Europe, the Soviet Union, and the United States during the 1950s. He also began recording regularly for the British Decca/London label with several different orchestras, including the Vienna Philharmonic. From 1955 until 1964, he was also the principal conductor of the Stockholm Philharmonic and made appearances as a guest conductor with more than 100 orchestras around the world, in all of the world's major cities, and with the Glyndebourne Opera (THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO, 1958) and Covent Garden (TRISTAN UND ISOLDE, 1962). During this period, he was also a fervent advocate for the music of Bartók, Stravinsky, and Hindemith.
Schmidt-Isserstedt was popular throughout Europe and his recordings were usually more easily available there than in the United States, where he was most familiar to a cadre of serious listeners. His Beethoven symphonic cycle with the Vienna Philharmonic (which featured some of the most consistently fine and inspired playing in the V.P.O.'s history), however, was readily available in the American catalog for many years and is still highly regarded. His recording of the 9th Symphony, in particular, is still singled out for critical praise. For many years, it was considered one of the two or three finest available on LP (back in the 1970s, if you found this record in someone's collection, you could be certain that they really knew their music and cared about it). His recordings of the Mozart operas, most notably IDOMENEO (his last, released in 1972) and LA FINTA GIARDINIERA (recorded in the then-extant German translation, as DIE GARTNERIN AUS LIEBE) remain among the choicest performances of these works.
Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt never courted publicity or glory in the way that his contemporaries, such as Wilhelm Furtwängler or younger rivals like Herbert von Karajan, did. As a result, his was never a household name. Working quietly, however, and building an orchestra and a postwar reputation from the ground up, he ended up leaving behind a handful of recordings whose worth speaks loudly, even in the digital era, some decades after his death.”
- Bruce Eder, allmusic.com
“Christa Ludwig was one of the most admired mezzo-sopranos of her generation, with a wide repertoire of both lieder and opera. She brought a fine sense of musicianship as well as drama to her performances. Her rôles ranged from Dorabella in COSÌ FAN TUTTE to Brangane in TRISTAN UND ISOLDE and Clytemnestra in ELEKTRA, and she was the creator of the role of Claire in Gottfried von Einem's BESUCH DER ALTEN DAME. Her technique and upper register were solid enough to let her sing the Marschallin in DER ROSENKAVALIER and the Dyer's Wife in DIE FRAU OHNE SCHATTEN, parts almost exclusively sung by sopranos -- though she did retreat from plans to sing Isolde and Brünnhilde. She was also a noted lieder performer, especially of Mahler.
She made her operatic début as Prince Orlofsky in Strauss' DIE FLEDERMAUS in 1946, at the Frankfurt State Opera, where she was a member of the company until 1952. She then moved to Darmstadt to study acting with the director Gustav Sellner. After two years, she and her mother (who was still teaching her) moved to Hanover, where she began to sing leading rôles such as Carmen, Ortrud, and Kundry. Her Salzburg début was in 1954 as Cherubino, and followed by her 1955 début in the same rôle at the Vienna State Opera, at the invitation of Karl Böhm, where she sang for more than 30 years. In 1957, she sang with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, who encouraged her husband Walter Legge, the famous producer, to sign Ludwig with EMI records. Ludwig's United States operatic début was in 1959 in Chicago, as Dorabella. In the 1970s, she went through a vocal crisis due to menopause, and she took some of the most demanding rôles out of her repertoire and began to give more attention to songs. Again she challenged the typical views of repertoire, and sang material, such as WINTERREISE, that is most often associated with male voices, especially baritones. Working with Leonard Bernstein, she developed a special affection for Mahler (whose music Bernstein championed when Mahler was relatively obscure.)”
- Anne Feeney, allmusic.com
“Christa Ludwig is the Lotte Lehmann of her generation.”
- Donal Henahan, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 22 March, 1990
“Of all the important tenors active during the latter half of the twentieth century, Nicolai Gedda was by far the most versatile and industrious, a questing musical spirit who left few areas of the operatic and song repertories unexplored. During a career that spanned nearly fifty years, Gedda was in demand the world over for the warm, sweet, silvery beauty of his voice, his patrician command of style, and an unshowy but dazzling technical virtuosity that was invariably in the service of the music.
Born to poor parents in Stockholm, Gedda was raised by his father’s sister and her Russian husband, a Don Cossack singer and cantor in a Russian orthodox church. It was from his strict stepfather that Gedda picked up his facility with languages and reading music - as well as an innate shyness and a distaste for confrontation that did not serve him well in later dealings with opera managements, not to mention two unhappy early marriages. The vocal rudiments were there from the beginning, however, and while he was working at his first job, as a bank teller, one of his helpful customers recommended a teacher - Carl-Martin Oehman, a former lyric tenor at Stockholm Opera and mentor of Jussi Björling.
Oehman, Gedda once recalled in his typically modest way, ‘taught me all the essentials, which I knew nothing about’. One can’t help thinking that the perfect vocal placement, firm muscular support, smooth register management and sovereign musical instincts were already present, just waiting to be coaxed out. Additional studies at Stockholm Conservatory lasted just two years before Gedda - in 1952, at age twenty-six - was given the leading role in Adam’s POSTILLON DE LONJUMEAU at the Royal Opera and created a sensation, especially with the brilliant high Ds that cap the coachman Chapelou’s famous entrance aria. Walter Legge, EMI’s legendary record impresario, and his wife, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, were in town and demanded to hear the new tenor everyone was raving about. After a short audition, Legge immediately fired off cables to conductor Herbert von Karajan and Antonio Ghiringhelli, the intendant of La Scala: ‘Just heard the greatest Mozart singer in my life: his name is Nicolai Gedda’.
What happened next would probably leave any young singer breathless. Gedda was instantly cast as Dimitri in EMI’s splashy new recording of BORIS GODUNOV, starring Boris Christoff (‘that BORIS recording opened the doors of the world to me’, Gedda once remarked), and he made a La Scala début as Don Ottavio in DON GIOVANNI under Karajan’s baton. Gedda suddenly had invitations to sing everywhere - Faust and Weber's Oberon in Paris, the Duke of Mantua at Covent Garden and dozens of other requests from Rome, Vienna, Salzburg, Berlin, Munich and Tokyo.
Meanwhile Legge kept Gedda busy in the recording studios after BORIS with Bach’s b-minor Mass under Karajan, rarities such as Cornelius’ BARBIER VON BAGHDAD and the French version of Gluck’s ORPHÉE, Strauss’ CAPRICCIO, Pinkerton in MADAMA BUTTERFLY, Faust, as well as solo recitals covering a wide range of repertory. One of the most impressive examples I know of the young Gedda on disc, at age twenty-eight, is Lehár’s LAND DES LÄCHELNS, in which he sings the mysterious yet passion-driven Prince Sou-Chong, a role made famous by Richard Tauber. It’s a ravishing piece of singing, delicately shaded and exquisitely controlled until all the character’s banked-up emotions come tumbling out in a glorious rendition of the Tauberlied, ‘Dein ist mein ganzes Herz’. Even here, vocal connoisseurs will marvel at the singer’s technical control when Gedda eases into the reprise of the big tune without so much as drawing a breath.
Rudolf Bing snapped up Gedda early on (an unusual move by this canny impresario, who usually liked to keep Metropolitan Opera audiences expectantly waiting, even for the most sensational new discoveries), and Gedda made his Met début on 1 November, 1957, as Faust. Thereafter the tenor, like so many important singers of his generation, tended to base himself in New York, while reserving plenty of time to fulfill engagements in Europe and make hundreds of recordings. So New York heard Gedda display the full range of his vocal talents and language facility until he left the company in 1983 - classic roles (Don Ottavio, Admèto in ALCESTE), standard repertory (the Duke, Alfredo, Rodolfo, Pinkerton, Edgardo), French specialties (Hoffmann, Don José, des Grieux, Pelléas, Roméo), bel canto (LA SONNAMBULA, L’ELISIR D’AMORE, DON PASQUALE), Russian roles (Dmitri, Lenski, Gherman), new American opera (VANESSA and THE LAST SAVAGE) and even a touch of operetta (Johann Strauss’s GYPSY BARON). Gedda never generated the hysterical fan response of, say, Franco Corelli, but few left his finely nuanced, vocally secure, emotionally generous performances feeling cheated.
Gedda wound down his career slowly during the 1990s, giving concerts, teaching and taking on occasional character roles, such as the ancient Abdisu, Patriarch of Assyria, in Covent Garden’s 1997 production of Pfitzner’s PALESTRINA. He also finally found marital contentment in 1997 with Aino Sellermark, who collaborated with Gedda on his memoirs, MY LIFE—MY ART. The couple settled in what appeared to be an idyllic retirement in Tolochenaz, a Swiss villa, where Gedda could take pride in recalling an extraordinarily productive career that had made him one of the most admired and widely heard tenors of his generation. Gedda died 8 January, 2017, aged 91.”
- Peter G. Davis, OPERA NEWS, 9 Feb., 2017