Songs, orchestrated songs and a scene from Der Rosenkavalier. Seefried, Schwarzkopf, Streich, Töpper; G. Moore, Reiss, piano; French Radio and Television Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra,
Bellugi, Klobucar, Mackerras. Idéale Audience 3075058, 60 mins., subtitled
This DVD is a hodgepodge of welcome archival footage of four leading post-World War II female interpreters of Richard Strauss's music. The material derives from the period 1961–70, placing it on the late side of the three sopranos involved, though all continued appearing in recital format (and, in Irmgard Seefried's case, in different stage repertory) well into the 1970s. We begin by glimpsing Rita Streich, working with the diligent pianist Janine Reiss, in a 1965 traversal of "Schlechtes Wetter." The charm that evidently made Streich such a knockout as Sophie and Zerbinetta is in force, in fact somewhat too much so for close-up viewing in video format. Her voice remained fresh and her intonation — always a Streich hallmark — about ninety-nine percent precise.
Three of the source documents involve Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, considered by many the supreme Strauss interpreter of her day. There is material here to please her greatest admirers and least patient detractors. The latest segment, from 1970, appears first: two familiar songs ("Morgen" and "Hat gesagt"), accompanied grandly by Gerald Moore, constitute the set's sole color footage. An attempt at Vermeer lighting has been made; in a beautiful seventeenth-century music room, Moore plays the eloquent prelude of "Morgen" as a slow tracking shot edging across a parquet floor finds — at some distance — the blue-clad diva, a vision of beauty at fifty-five, posed philosophically above another keyboard instrument. Her timbre a shade thicker than in the chronologically earlier footage, she dispatches phrases with studied art. Is it kitsch or great artistry? The Knaben Wunderhorn song gets a familiar treatment — no syllable left unconsidered, but far too much off-pitch parlando effect for my taste. A 1967 Salle Pleyel session with orchestra (with the rather heavy-handed Berislav Klobucar presiding) proves more rewarding, though at loud volume and in lower stretches the voice — so ravishing and so scrupulously managed in the middle range — shows encroaching limits. Curious side-angle filming provides interesting insights as to how Schwarzkopf produced her sound, particularly in a (technically) highly impressive "Zueignung." "Waldseligkeit" requires more breaths from Schwarzkopf than its long lines ideally call for, but her commitment and intelligence count for a lot. That goes triple for what follows, this DVD's valuable highlight — a 1961 BBC studio filming (by Patricia Foy) of the end of Act I of Rosenkavalier, which, oddly, begins smack in the middle of the famous monologue, as the Marschallin recalls her girlhood. Hertha Töpper (b. 1924), the Octavian here, enjoyed a fine Munich-based career that brought her to Bayreuth and to a leading position among Bach altos. Unlike some mezzos, Töpper never lets you forget it's really a soprano role; still, musical and sonorous, she acts with compelling dignity. Charles Mackerras supports the singers sympathetically.
Piero Bellugi accompanies Irmgard Seefried, one of the cornerstones of the "Vienna Mozart style," whose only complete role in New York was Susanna, though she concertized and recorded widely. The lovely "Wiegenlied," at a fast clip, is enchanting. Seefried's selections also include "Morgen." Unlike her Silesian colleague, Seefried makes clear that there is an addressee in this piece: the warmth and love expressed are not self-admiring but specific.
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