C0005. KARL BOHM Cond. Vienna Phil.: Symphony #4 in B (Beethoven); Symphony #4 in d (Schumann); w.CHRISTA LUDWIG: Liedereines fahrenden gesellen (Mahler). (Austria) Orfeo stereo C 522 991, Live Performance, 17 Aug., 1969, Salzburg Festival. Long out-of-print, Final Sealed Copy!
“A Böhm Schumann performance was always a rare event. When John Hunt published his Böhm discography in 1992 (in Mid-Century Conductors) there were just two entries under Schumann: a 1942 Dresden recording of the Piano Concerto, with Walter Gieseking as soloist, and the wonderfully gaunt and imposing account of the Fourth Symphony which Bohm made with the Vienna Philharmonic for DG in November 1978. Reviewing the LP in these columns in November 1980, I noted: 'Dr Böhm, in his 86th year, does not so much defy time as marvellously order and propel it'.
Alas, the performance has never appeared on CD. As one world-weary DG executive put it to me, with more than a touch of Schadenfreude, 'Karl Böhm died the day after his death’. Commercially, this may have been true, but my goodness how this 1969 Salzburg Schumann Fourth lives, moves, and continues to be.
The occasion of the recording was a concert in honour of Böhm's 75th birthday. (With a birthday in late August, he always had the Salzburg Festival at his disposal; the more cynically minded noted that he even contrived to die during the festival.)….the typically ascetic 1960s Austrian Radio recording robbing the Vienna violins of whatever bloom they currently possessed. That said, the tinder-dry sound is strangely apt to Böhm's Schumann Fourth, enabling it to burn quicker, and with an even fiercer heat.”
- Richard Osborne, GRAMOPHONE
“Christa Ludwig, who poured a lustrous voice into dramatically taut performances of opera roles - especially those of Mozart, Strauss and Wagner - and intimately rendered art songs as one of the premier mezzo-sopranos of the second half of the 20th century, commanded a broad range of the great mezzo-soprano parts, including Dorabella in Mozart’s COSÌ FAN TUTTE, Cherubino in his LE NOZZE DI FIGARO, Octavian in Strauss’ DER ROSENKAVALIER, Bizet’s Carmen and numerous Wagner roles. Often, critics were reduced to calling her the greatest mezzo-soprano of her time. But like many mezzos, Ms. Ludwig strove to lay claim to higher-voiced - and higher-profile - soprano roles. So she took on, most successfully in that category, characters including the Marschallin in DER ROSENKAVALIER, the Dyer’s Wife in DIE FRAU OHNE SCHATTEN and Leonore in Beethoven’s FIDELIO. She was an equal master of the intimate song - especially the works of Brahms, Mahler and Schubert. Her artistry put her in the pantheon of postwar lieder singers that included Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Elly Ameling and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf.
Ms. Ludwig made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Cherubino (a trouser role, a type she said was not her favorite) in 1959, took on Octavian and Amneris in Verdi’s AIDA at the house that year as well and sang regularly at the Met until the end of her career. But onstage, Ms. Ludwig brought a striking combination of acting ability, charisma and vocal beauty. Her voice had range and power, a security through all the registers and a broad array of colors.
‘Her unmistakable, deep-purple timbre envelops the listener in a velvet cloak’, Roger Pines wrote in OPERA NEWS in 2018, reviewing her collected recordings. ‘She excelled equally in intimate, legato-oriented lieder and the largest-scale operatic repertoire, where her sound expanded with glorious brilliance’. Critics often took note of her wit and comic deftness, and a personality that could fill a hall even when she sang softly. ‘Her presence on the Met stage was a synthesis of the dramatic arts all by itself - her voice, her wonderfully natural diction and her shadings of facial expression and gesture all conspiring to express with great emotional breadth the singular message of this singular music’, THE NEW YORK TIMES critic Bernard Holland wrote of a ‘Winterreise’ performance in 1983. Ms. Ludwig sang that searing Schubert song cycle some 72 times, even though it was composed for a male voice.
She met the bass-baritone Walter Berry at the Vienna opera in 1957 when they were cast in LE NOZZE DI FIGARO. They married three months later and had a son, Wolfgang. The couple frequently appeared together in operas and joint recitals. In interviews, Ms. Ludwig said they felt occasional rivalry and were at odds in preparing for performances. The couple divorced in 1970, though they continued to perform together. (Mr. Berry died in 2000.) Soon after her divorce, Ms. Ludwig met the actor and stage director Paul-Emile Deiber while he was preparing a production of Massenet’s WERTHER at the Met, and they married in 1972. He died in 2011.
In the realm of song, critics took note of her sensitivity, smooth lines, intimacy, control and mastery of the text. ‘She is perhaps the reigning feminine expert at making us feel good about lonely teardrops and thwarted bliss’, THE TIMES critic Donal Henahan wrote in 1979.”
- Daniel J. Wakin, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 25 April, 2021