When critics, reviewers, and the public listen to Lotte Lehmann’s recordings, or heard her live in opera or recital, they didn’t usually choose their favorite performances, but it’s fun and even illuminating to know what various people said and now, say about her recordings of various arias or songs.
- When, during my 85th birthday radio interview, I asked Lehmann herself her favorite Lieder (not her favorite recordings), she chose Schubert’s Im Abendrot and Morgen! by Strauss. Here’s the 1933 recording of Im Abendrot with pianist Ernö Balogh. The late Christopher Nupen chose this recording to close his Schubert documentary video. From another source (Frances Holden) I learned what recording of hers Lehmann did listen to. Rather a surprise, she liked the Bavarian folksong arranged by Böhm called ‘s Zuschau’n (Peaking in), a 1931 recording with trio accompaniment led by Frieder Weissmann. Lehmann’s last student, Jeannine Altmeyer wrote “I do have to agree with the recording of Morgen. The most beautiful song by Strauss, except for maybe, Im Abendrot from his Four Last Songs. I do remember her stories about Strauss, and I’m sure that he was one of her favourite composers.”
- The knowledgable music director of Hawaii Public Radio, Gene Schiller, chose Ich ging zu ihm from Korngold’s Das Wunder der Heliane, a 1928 recording with Manfred Gurlitt conducting the Berlin State Opera Orchestra. Since this opera aria isn’t well known I’m offering the original words and translation. Neil A Kurtzman MD is the Grover E Murray Professor and University Distinguished Professor, Department of Internal Medicine at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Lubbock. He’s a fan of Korngold, this opera, and Lehmann’s recording. “Lotte Lehmann, of course, was the leading lyric German soprano of the second quarter of the 20th century. She was especially fond of both Korngold’s opera and of its soprano aria. She sings the aria with the sensitive fragility for which she was noted. The limited tonal range of the electrical recording process limits the impact of the performance.” Though this was recorded in 1928, I believe the studio handled the balance between voice and orchestra very well. The words and the following translation don’t make sense if you don’t know that the man to whom Heliane sings was a messianic figure who is imprisoned without consummating his marriage to Heliane. Out of pity she visits the man in prison and symbolically gives herself to him. In Act II she is brought to judgment for this and tells her judges what happened between herself and the man.
Ich ging zu ihm, der morgen sterben sollt.
Der Abend neigte sich–da ging ich hin.
Er bat mich um mein Haar, ich gab es ihm.
Er bat um meine Füsse. Aus den Schuh’n
Trat ich und gab ihm die entblössten Füsse.
Er warf sich hin, erflehend meinen Leib,
Da löst ich das Gewand von mir und stand,
Wie mich mein Gott erschaffen, vor ihm: nackt.
Ich war sein in Gedanken…ja, ich war’s!
Auf meinen Knien bat ich zu Gott, dass er
Die Kraft mir schenke, dies zu vollenden.
Nicht hab ich ihn geliebt. Nicht ist mein Leib in Lust entbrannt.
Doch schön war der Knabe
Schön wie ein Stern im Vergehen. Und neigt ich mich,
So tat ich’s, damit sein armes Aug
Noch Liebe könne sehen, ehe dass es bräche.
Und also schwör ich, Gott nehme mich hinauf in den Himmel,
So war ich nun schwöre:
Nicht hat mich Lust meines Blutes zu jenem Knaben getrieben,
Doch sein Leid [hab’ ich]
Mit ihm getragen, und bin in Schmerzen
Sein geworden. Und nun tötet mich.
I went to him, who was supposed to die the next day.
Evening was falling as I went to him.
He asked for my hair, I gave it to him.
He asked for my feet. Out of my shoes
I stepped and gave him my bare feet.
He threw himself down, begging my body,
I loosened my garment and stood,
before him as God made me: naked.
I was his in thought…yes, I was!
On my knees I begged God to
Give me strength to accomplish this.
I did not love him. My body did not burn with pleasure.
But handsome was the boy,
Fair as a star. And if I humbled myself,
I did it so that his poor eyes
Might yet see love, before they closed.
And this I swear—may God take me up to heaven,
I now truly swear:
Pleasure of my blood did not drive me to that boy,
But his grief I bore
With him, and in pain
I became his. And now kill me.
- Singer/teacher Patricia Pease (wife of one of Lehmann’s students, the late Lincoln Clark), wrote: “For me it’s the 26 June 1947 recordings of Brahms Zigeunerlieder. Mme. Lehmann’s interpretation of these songs with pianist, Paul Ulanowsky, was the first that I ever listened to, on the recommendation of my voice teacher when I was nineteen years old. How grateful I was, and still am. They are so lusty and vibrant…hallmarks of her singular art.” I’m offering Brauner Burshe.
- The late Judith Sutcliffe, one who not only admired Lehmann, but worked to preserve her legacy, requested that Lehmann’s recording of Wagner’s Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde be played as the last thing that she’d hear.
- Blair Boone-Migura, educator, and musician, and executive director of The Art Song Preservation Society of New York (ASPS) writes: “I so love that Lehmann recorded the Dichterliebe just because the choice to do that was so bold. And she sings the cycle beautifully. But, if I’m going to pick a favorite, I’d have to say that it would be Duparc’s La Vie Antérieure. Her voice is so perfectly suited to Duparc. Of course, her voice is perfectly suited for so many composers like Stauss and Schubert too. But, when I hear her sing this Duparc mélodie it makes me wish that recordings existed for more of Duparc’s meager number of songs when compared to his contemporaries. Also because Duparc intended for many of his mélodies to be orchestrated, I can only imagine how epic Duparc’s orchestrated mélodies would have sounded in Lehmann’s beautiful voice.”
- Soprano Alice Marie Nelson studied with Lehmann and wrote: “The first time I heard Lehmann sing it on this recording I burst into tears. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone sing the first phrases of anything so wide open with their gut emotion.” This is Kommt dir manchmal in den Sinn, also from the Zigeunerlieder of Brahms recorded in 1947 with Paul Ulanowsky.
- David Cutler, Fanfare critic and Beniamino Gigli discographer, wrote: “My favorite Lehmann discs are undoubtedly the act I of Die Walküre conducted by Bruno Walter from 1935. This recording is full of rapture and intensity from both Melchior and Lehmann, but she is absolutely radiant in this version. It has not been surpassed for the passion and sheer vocalism. Lehmann is as steady as a rock and her voice is at its absolute peak during this recording under the guiding hand of Bruno Walter. Her soprano has a gorgeous and warm tone and as an interpretation it comes out of the grooves so vividly.” In a review in Fanfare magazine of a recent release of Wagner’s Die Walküre Act I conducted by Christian Thielemann, Huntley Dent writes, “….Making comparisons with earlier recordings, one can draw a straight line heading downward from the classic Bruno Walter account with the Vienna Philharmonic (1935) to today. An age that saw Lotte Lehmann and Lauritz Melchior in the lead roles seems almost mythical to us now…” It is difficult to listen to only an excerpt from this amazing recording, but if, after this section that features Sieglinde (Lehmann), the Siegmund were allowed to continue, we’d have a lot Melchior to enjoy!
- Artist and vocal enthusiast Kent Pachuta wrote: “This treasure chest of Lehmann recordings illustrates the magic she could cast in performance. After listening to many favorites, I was particularly moved by Ich liebe dich by Beethoven. This is one of those truly rare times when I feel alone with her, like everything else is gone but the two of us, and her words of comfort, assurance and love fill my heart.”
- Historian and critic Alastair Macaulay wrote: “This recording, of [Schubert’s] Der Doppelgänger (which translates as “the double” or “the wraith”) comes from when she was about fifty-three. It won’t completely explain to you why she was loved. Nonetheless I think it’s among her very greatest: the diction is the first reason, but only the most obvious.” I recommend that you go to the page devoted to Lehmann’s Der Doppelgänger.
- Critic John Steane writes of Schubert’s Die junge Nonne: “The singer…who brings to the song the full resources of voice and imaginative warmth to give it one of the finest performances on record is Lotte Lehmann. This was made late in her career  but the voice is still firm and beautiful, and right from the start (with the recognition that those opening phrases are exclamations) there is a sense of involvement by far the most intense among these singers [already discussed]. The urgency of the first verse (almost like the Act II Sieglinde), the shining face of trust in “Ich harre, mein Heiland”, the beautiful pianissimo of “erlöse die Seele”, the rapt exaltation and the serene “Alleluja” – It is all so complete an experience that the song lives, it seems, twice as long.”
- Marilyn Horne remarked on Lehmann’s bel canto sound in the Entrance of Butterfly, from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. Since there are two recordings, I’m not sure which she was referring to, so I’ll offer both. In the first one, Lehmann sings the optional high D at the end.
- Joe Pearce, tenor and guiding light for the Vocal Record Collector’s Society chose Lehmann’s recording of Schubert’s Der Erlkönig from 1947 with Paul Ulanowsky. He wrote: “Except for the Kipnis Victor, I can’t think of any version of that song that I don’t prefer a female voice – like Lehmann’s, Schumann-Heink’s or Schwarzkopf’s, also a very good Brunswick by Onegin. Yet all the characters and the narrator are male!”
- Master transfer engineer and connoisseur of older recordings, Ward Marston, wrote: “After producing the two Lotte Lehmann sets, I gained an even greater appreciation of her magnificent artistry than I had already had. Almost every record has something special about it. But if I am forced to choose something that I often return to, it would be her solo and her duet with Richard Tauber from Korngold’s Die tote Stadt. I love particularly the first take of the solo but I do understand why she made another stab at it; I was so pleased when I located both takes. The duet with Tauber remains one of my favorite records ever recorded.” It has been said that the duet recorded acoustically in 1924 with George Szell conducting members of the Berlin State Opera Orchestra, is one of the few recordings that has been in continual release since its original.
Here are the German words and English translation.
- I (Gary Hickling) have a few Lehmann favorites, but since the other contributors have limited themselves to one recording, I’ll do so too. I’m including the original Kerner poem Alte Laute and an English translation, because this song isn’t well-known, even if it’s from the magic year (1840) during which Robert Schumann composed so many classic Lieder. The other reason for including the words is to bring attention to the way that Lehmann has of performing the poem so that it doesn’t sound depressing. You’ll hear her “Herz” is sung with a feeling of intimacy and self-knowledge. When at the end she sings that only an angel can wake her from this terrible dream, I don’t hear gloom or despair, but rather hope.
- Journalist, theater and opera critic, poet and novelist, Charles Osborne, chooses Lehmann’s Marschallin in the last moments of Act I of Der Rosenkavalier in the classic 1933 recording with Robert Heger conducting the Vienna Philharmonic. (Osborne may best known to us song fanciers for his book The Concert Song Companion.)
- Dr. Steven Kaplan, a medical doctor and baritone, chose Mimi’s aria from La bohème from a 1929 recording with Frieder Weissmann conducting members of the Berlin State Opera Orchestra. In German and Austria at the time, everything was sung in German, so instead of. the expected “Si, mi chiamano Mimì”, you’ll hear “Man nennt much jetzt Mimi.”
- Peter Askim, composer, bassist, conductor, and artistic director of The Next Festival of Emerging Artists, writes: “As a long-time lover of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben, I’m especially moved by Lehmann’s interpretation of the music and text. The way her voice moves between intimate, conversational (almost confessional) tones to an intense, emotionally soaring transcendence seems to me perfectly suited to the complexity of the emotions inherent in the text.” Since we’re keeping to one song or aria for each listener, I’ve chosen the third song of the cycle, Ich kann’s nicht fassen nicht glauben, which offers many aspects of Lehmann’s singing and the appropriate pianistic choices of Bruno Walter. Here’s a link to the complete Frauenliebe und Leben, both recorded and live.
- When I was preparing a top 40 Schubert program for WBAI in New York, I had the help of a song expert, Phillip Miller, who helped me choose the singers/pianists for the program. When it came to his favorite Lehmann Schubert recording, with no hesitation, he picked the 1947 recording of An den Mond (Geuss, lieber Mond) with Paul Ulanowsky, piano
- Philip Ulanowsky, photographer and son of Lehmann’s pianist Paul, wrote: “There are two recordings of Die schöne Mullerin that, to my mind, stand above any other recordings or performances I have heard yet. One is Lehmann’s, the other is the late (mature) Perter Schreier-Schiff recording. Of the two, it is Lehmann’s (and Dad’s) rendition of the (albeit abbreviated) Baches Wiegenlied that must be counted among the beautiful conclusions in performance of a Lied or cycle. Dad wrote about the “imperceptible” slowing required in the last verse. Lehmann’s subtlety in that last stanza, especially its last line—wie ist er so weit!—is unparalleled.”
- Since Philip has a special cachet, I’ll allow him two favorites: “I will cheat and add another that to me exemplifies the greatest of Lehmann’s art, and that is the recording of Mendelssohn’s Auf Flügeln des Gesanges. In addition to Dad’s playing sounding truly like a harp (emphasized by technical recording issues but also clearly his intention), the song is enchanting—and then the extraordinary conclusion: The rubato is so pronounced that the song nearly comes to a stop before it’s over, but this is done from inside the music, that is, it is not an arbitrary effect imposed from the outside but draws its reason wholly from within the music and therefore is not only legitimate but so engaging, coupled with the delicate color of the voice through the end, that one hardly notices how pronounced it is until long afterwards.”
- Raymond Beegle, critic for Fanfare magazine, wrote: “I suppose the most moving for me is Phyllis, from her Santa Barbara recital. She is best and deepest, as most musicians are, when they are looking at the faces of other souls rather than a microphone. Phyllis has that abundance of urgency and truthfulness so characteristic of her. I always believe her.” Lehmann had already sung her “farewell” recital in February, 1951, and this one occurred on 7 August 1951. Since this mélodie isn’t well-known, I’ll offer the text and English translation.
- Dr. Herman Schornstein was a personal friend of Lotte Lehmann during her last decades. He had seen her as she sang her last recitals and operas. Later travelled with her and attended master classes. Here’s what he wrote: “I (and know that I prefer sweet wines) love Lotte Lehmann’s Eva’s Waltz as a most compelling example of her artistry.” This recording is from the Franz Lehar operetta Eva, recorded in 1928 with members of the Berlin State Opera Orchestra and/or Chamber Orchestra Hans von Benda, conducted by Hermann Weigert. It opens with a spoken monolog, which allows us to hear the young Lehmann speaking. So war meine Mutter (spoken)…Wär es auch nichts als ein Augenblick. Here are the words of the waltz song.