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Elisabeth Schwarzkopf

At the HST Wednesday night

By Kenneth A. Bleeth

The German lied is a highly perishable article--a gracious and intimate form of musical entertainment which, in the hands of singers less gifted than Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, rarely finds a congenial concert setting. On Wednesday night, Madame Schwarzkopf, assisted by her excellent pianist John Wustman, offered lieder of Schubert, Wolf, and Strauss to a large audience at the Harvard Square Theatre, and it is a measure of her artistry that every nuance of these songs, every dramatic point and humorous inflection, was as telling as it might have been in the living-room of someone's home.

Madame Schwarzkopf, looking radiant and lovely in green silk, waited with queenly patience for the many latecomers who tramped in throughout the whole first section of the program, doing their best to mar the splendid repose of the opening song, Bach's Bist Du bei mir. Those who knew Madame Schwarzkopf's singing only from her recordings may have been a bit disappointed by the first two groups of songs, for her voice has not quite the purity and control of four or five years ago, and the acoustics of the HST seem bright and clear almost to a fault. Handel's Care selve, for example, suffered from too many changes of vocal color within its long phrases, and the exaltation of Schubert's Auf dem Wasser zu singen was conveyed more in the singer's facial expression than in the somewhat imperfect articulation of the notes. Madame Schwarzkopf's historical curiosity got the better of her usually flawless taste when she chose to sing a version of Mozart's Voi che sapete "with embellishments noted down at a performance in Vienna at which Mozart was present." As the soprano explained, such frills and furbelows were usually improvised on the spur of the moment and then forgotten; this version of the aria, however, lay hidden in a German castle until it was discovered three years ago.

The small disappointments of the first part of the program seemed scarcely important, however, by the time Madame Schwarzkopf had finished singing Schubert's Seligkeit, one of the seven encores which she bestowed upon the audience with the charm of someone giving candy to children who have behaved well. Here her voice soared buoyantly; the pianissimi were fine-spun and beautifully controlled. This vocal gold was at the service of an extraordinary musical intelligence in the Hugo Wolf group which followed the intermission: each song, as Miss Schwarzkopf rendered it, became a drama in miniature. The alternately anguished and tender dialogue of Herr, was traegt der Boden hier, the elaborate pathos of Bedeckt mich mis Bluemen, were projected with mastery; no less remarkable--for Schwarzkopf dearly loves a song in which she can be girlish and winning--was the sly humor of In dem Schatten meiner Locken ("In the shadow of my tresses, my lover fell asleep"), where the phrase "Weck'ich ihn nun auf? Ach nein!" ("Shall I wake him? Ah no"), repeated three times, was first coy, then a bit reproachful, and finally just the merest sigh of content. The Wolf group was lengthened by two encores, which Miss Schwarzkopf announced and (bless her!) translated: an exultant Ich hab' in Penna (a catalogue of lovers: one each in Penna, Maremma, Ancona, Viterbo, Casentino, and Magione; four in La Fratta, "und zehn in Castiglione," and a magnicently dramatic performance of the great Mignon ("Kennst du das land?").

The evening ended with Richard Strauss, a composer of whom Madame Schwarzkopf is particularly fond. Listening to Schlechtes Wetter, one knew why. The song is about a mother who will bake a cake for her lazy daughter who sits at home. It ends in a soaring waltz straight from Der Rosenkavalier: Schwarzkopf's voice here was all whipped cream and Sachertorte. Not satisfied with this dessert, the audience demanded three encores before the soprano took the bouquets of roses from the piano as a sign that the concert was over. The reluctance to leave was understandable: it was a treasurable recital.

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