C1769. LEONARD BERNSTEIN Cond. Concertgebouw Orch., w.Lucia Popp & Andreas Schmidt: Des Knaben Wunderhorn (Mahler). [An exceedingly beautiful and strong performance in the brilliant Concertgebouw acoustic!] (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL T-965, Live Performance, 27 Oct., 1987, Amsterdam. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“This is an important release, which may come as a surprise since Leonard Bernstein already has three versions of DES KNABEN WUNDERHORN in the catalog, and the last one, released by DG in 1989, is my least favorite. It was made with the same orchestra and singers that we have here, and you’d think not a great difference should exist between them. But this is a case where Bernstein’s genius for making music sound as if it were being recreated from Mahler’s imagination takes hold in a riveting way.
Since recording the cycle with Christa Ludwig, Walter Berry, and the New York Philharmonic in the late Sixties (there were separate sessions in 1967 and 1969), Bernstein’s life had taken a strange trajectory, personally downward in many ways after his wife Felicia died of cancer in 1978, yet musically in a more erratic way. The cliché that he took everything slower as he aged doesn’t explain how some Bernstein performances were indifferent trudges (something the younger Lenny could never be accused of) while others radiated the glow of attained wisdom.
In this live concert from October, 1987, he communicates a world as savagely bleak as in WOZZECK, unifying the 12 songs as no one ever has in my experience. In general one finds the same characteristics that Benjamin Pernick described in his review of the DG release: ‘Lightness, humor, and nonsense tend to be played down, while darkness, grimness, and bitterness are intensified in a serious, less youthful WUNDERHORN’ (FANFARE 13:1). Pernick notes that certain songs got faster from what they were in New York, others slower, and in several cases, such as ‘Der Schildwache Nachtlied’ and ‘Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen’, the very slow pace is so risky that only singers as accomplished as Andreas Schmidt and Lucia Popp could sustain the melodic line convincingly. (Even Klemperer, in his classic recording of ‘Wo die schönen’ with Christa Ludwig, is almost three minutes faster.)
It isn’t hard to detect why the live account sounds more dramatic, urgent, and tragic. Bernstein got Schmidt, a baritone endowed with a beautiful voice but not much temperament, to sing the songs of doomed soldiers with real desperation, roughening his tone and even shouting when called for. Those songs expose you to the edge of terror and dread. Popp throws herself into the spirit of the performance even though the soprano’s part (most often a mezzo) doesn’t have nearly as many tragic songs. No longer sounding young - Popp was 47 at the time - she uses this to her advantage by portraying the soldiers’ girlfriends as peasant women who feel anguish in the face of war; this is especially evident in the back-and-forth of ‘Lied des Verfolgten im Turm’.
In a song of universal suffering like ‘Das irdische Leben’, in which a starving child is told by its mother to wait for bread, only to die once the bread has finally been baked, Popp doesn’t have the penetrating hint of wailing that belonged to Brigitte Fassbaender, but she gives the song a full measure of sorrow. As the masterpiece of the cycle, ‘Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen’ is a special case. It, too, is a dialogue between a soldier and the girl he left behind, but now the soldier is dead. Bernstein draws the tempo out to such an extreme length that the sense of a dialogue is lost; instead we are in the unearthly realm of ‘Der Abschied’, the final song in ‘Das Lied von der Erde’, where death and eternity converge. I found the DG version a little self-indulgent, but here, drawing the pace out even more, the effect is very moving, and Popp sustains the melodic line quite well, as if the tempo were completely natural.
In the end Pernick came down hard on the DG release: ‘Popp floats some ravishing high notes, but she is generally too light in both heft and tonal color. Schmidt is never less than adequate vocally, but is rarely more, either, while his interpretations are often undercharacterized or heavy handed’. I’d say that his criticism holds true for Popp’s unsuccessful recording of KNABEN WUNDERHORN with Klaus Tennstedt (EMI/Warner), but not here, and in no way can Schmidt be accused of undercharacterizing his songs. The playing of the Concertgebouw Orchestra is gorgeous, and the sound is excellent broadcast stereo.
The Mahler discography has acquired a valuable addition; it is a ‘must-listen’ for fans of Bernstein and for lovers of these songs.”
- Huntley Dent, FANFARE
“Lucia Popp was an accomplished coloratura soprano in the early years of her career, but later she moved with great success into the lyric repertoire and, still later, into the lighter Strauss and Wagner operas. She had the ideal voice and personality for Viennese operetta, and was one of the best Rosalindes (DIE FLEDERMAUS) and Hanna Glawaris (THE MERRY WIDOW) of her time. She was also a celebrated recitalist and lieder singer, where her singing benefited from her charming stage presence. Her untimely death in 1993 cut short a major career.
Popp initially entered the Bratislava Academy to study drama. Anna Hrusovska-Prosenkova, a voice teacher at the Academy, happened to hear her singing during a performance of Molière's LE BOURGEOIS GENTILHOMME, and offered her voice lessons. She began her studies as a mezzo-soprano, but her voice quite suddenly developed a high upper register -- so much so that her professional début was as Mozart's Queen of the Night at the Bratislava Opera. That role was to remain a staple for many years of her early career.
Popp soon made débuts at the Theater an der Wien and the Vienna State Opera, where her first role was Barbarina in LE NOZZE DI FIGARO. She had strong ties to the Vienna State Opera during her career, though she left their regular roster in 1967, and in 1979 she was named an Austrian Kammersängerin. She made her Covent Garden début in 1966 as Oscar in UN BALLO IN MASCHERA, and her Met début in 1967 as the Queen of the Night.
During the 1970s, she left coloratura roles for lyric ones, particularly of Mozart, where she was an especially effective Pamina and Susanna, and in the 1980s she began to add even heavier roles, including Eva in DIE MEISTERSINGER and Strauss' Arabella (both in 1983) with similar success.”
- Anne Feeney, allmusic.com
“Andreas Schmidt is one of Germany's best known veteran low voice singers on the operatic and concert stages. His stage debut was as Georg in Marschner's DER WAFFENSCHMIED at the Gerhart-Hauptmann Theater in Görlitz, following which he was contracted as a member of its company. He worked his way up as member of the Hans-Otto-Theater of Potsdam and the Volkstheater Rostock companies. In 1980 he became a member of the company of Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin.
He has sung such roles as Oberon, Monostatos, and Pedrillo (ENTFÜHRUNG AUS DEM SERAIL), and in Don Carlos, Pique Dame, Wozzeck, and Salome. He has often appeared in concerts and oratorios on television and radio. He has appeared on a large number of international record labels. His discography includes a large number of Bach cantatas and the major Bach Passions and Masses. He has had particular distinction for his singing of songs and other vocal music of late Romantic composers Franz Schreker and Franz Schmidt, and operas by Wagner, Strauss, Humperdinck, and Mozart, as well as songs by Franz Schubert and Robert Schumann.”
- Joseph Stevenson, allmusic.com