Spécial critiques internationales
AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE - Octobre 2000
STOLZ : Blumenlieder - Dagmar Schellenberger, soprano, Shelley Katz, piano
The first surprise is opening the jewel box and being transfixed by the image on the back of the booklet : the lovely Dagmar Schellenberger, looking very fetching in a well-composed but uncredited photograph. The second surprise is Robert Stolz'music. It's delightful.
Robert Stolz (1880 - 1975) is described in the booklet as having been internationally acclaimed as the King of Operetta, but his music is not well represented in the catalog. Like Leonard Bernstein, Robert Stolz is not the easiest composer to classify. He wrote with equal facility fo opera, operetta, films (among his numerous credits is the score to Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow) and for the crooners and nightclub singers of his day. Grove's notes that he was know as a sort of Austrian Irving Berlin.
Blumenlieder simply overflows with nostalgia for old Vienna. There are hints of Korngold and Friml everywhere, an occasional nod to Strauss, and even a hint of Puccini here and there, but Stolz still manages to maintain an individual voice. No dissonances threaten; everything lies pleasantly on the ear, yet the music is never trivial or vapid. It's a complete delight.
We are informed that when a new edition of the cycle was published in 1972 (in preparation for a new recording made under the venerable composer'supervision), many of the texts were modernized or scrapped altogether by Günter Loose, one of Stolz'collaborators from the 1950s. This recording reverts to the original. Both versions of "Rittersporn" are presented. In the original it celebrates the soldier's life in mocking fashion. With Loose's text, stripped of all military references, the martial flourishes of the piano part and the replacement of the spoken "Eins, zwei ! Eins, zwei !" of the soldier-flower with "Oh, ja ! Oh, ja !", simply make no sense.
The program closes with three other songs, not from the cycle and curiously unmentioned in the notes. The final one, an "Ave Maria" (the unfamiliar text is uncredited) is especially lovely.
There appears to be an awakening interest in Stolz. A few new releases have included his music, and MDG has just released a rival recording of Blumenlieder [above]. Dagmar Schellenberger sings wonderfully, and Shelley Katz offers able accompaniment. Recorded sound is just fine - well balanced and fairly spacious - an improvement over the slightly cramped acoustic that has dampened the effect of some recent CPO releases of lieder.
So what are you waiting for ? Stolz's beautiful cycle, beautifully sung by the beautiful Ms Schellenberger - you can't ask for much more than that. Run out and get it now !
FANFARE (USA) - Octobre 2000
We know Robert Stolz (1880 - 1975) as a beloved operetta composer, but the songs on this disc are closer to serious Lied. Blumenlieder, written in 1927, is a cycle of 21 songs about flowers (it begins with a brief introductory "Motto", then follows with 20 more fully developed songs, each a paean to a specific flower). This cycle comprises the bulk of this disc, taking up over 50 minutes. The remaining songs (one written as a revision to the original Blumenlieder cycle) are similar in nature and quality to the big cycle. This is music that resists, to some degree, categorization. While it is, as I said, closer to serious art songs than the lighter operetta fare that gave Stolz his reputation, thse songs actually straddle a line between light entertainment and serious concert fare. The piano writing is, for instance, much simpler than one would find in the Lieder of Wolf, Brahms, or Schumann. As Hubert Ortkemper points out in his excellent notes, the vocal line requires a serious, trainer singer, but one with at least some of the personality of a diseuse or a cabaret singer.
A good deal of the music's charm and communicative power comes across in these performances, but one senses that there is more to it than we are getting. Dagmar Schellenberger seems limited by the narrow range of vocal color at her disposal, though she does manage to invest the music with a reasonable degree of personality. In a sustained line one might be distracted by the strong, rapid vibrato in her voice, but it never becomes a major problem. She is probably most successful in Fingerhut (Foxglove), a real charmer of a song closer to the atmosphere of the cabaret than of the concert stage. Both the soprano and pianist Katz bring it across with genuine wit and charm. These are good, solid performances with the singing and pianism always on a reasonably high professional level. If they rarely rise to the level of the remarkable, or unusually communicative, they are always pleasant. The recorded sound is fine - perhaps just a shade unfocused (there seems to be a tendency in vocal recordings now to surround the voice with too much "ambience"), but well balanced and more than acceptable in all ways. Useful and informative notes, along with complete texts and translations, are provided.
GRAMOPHONE (USA & GB) - Octobre 2000
Operetta and film composer of the inter-war years, Robert Stolz has a highly active publicity machine that has proved immensely successful in promoting his music and recordings of it. Hence, no doubt, the simultaneous appearance of two recordings of these 20 Flower Songs published originally in 1928.
Being an excursion into art song, it is, of course, highly atypical of Stolz's output. I suppose a parallel could be drawn with Franz Lehar, some of whose more serious song compositions have appeared on a couple of CPO Discs. I can't say that Stolz'cycle has the same intensity as Lehar's more dramatic songs, or the sweetness of his more popular ones. There are some bursts of real inspiration, for instance in the lilting slow waltz "Oracle Flower" or the capricious "Foxglove", about a dwarf whose little wife uses the floxglove as a thimble while darning his trousers. Mostly these are pleasant enough settings of little flower anecdotes, built on the them (set out in an additional song) that "flowers are not soulless, but are secret beings".
Where CPO offers the cycle in its original 1928 form, MDG uses a revised version that Stolz sanctioned when he was in his nineties. The music is unchanged, but the songs are moved around and the words are in some cases completely new. As for the performances, both sopranos are attractive to listen to, but the approaches to the music are very different. Lindner and Verwey provide a much more outgoing, heart-on-the-sleeve approach, whereas Schellenberger and Katz are more quietly reflective, seeking to bring out the poetry and subtletly of the settings.
The fillers match these contrasted moods. CPO adds one of the songs in its later version and a further three more serious songs, whereas MDG goes for three encores in more familiar Stolz style. This helps attract me to the MDG compilation; but those with a more poetic streak or who prefere to hear the verses for which the music was conceived may well favour the CPO which also includes English translations of the lyrics.
Andrew Lamb (AL est également président de la Sté anglaise Johann Strauss)
FANFARE - Septembre 2000
Though entitled Songs for Soprano and Orchestra, this disc contains four purely orchestral works, including an eight-minute miniature tone poem called Träume and der Donau. In addition, there are 10 songs. Robert Stolz (1880 - 1975) was probably the final representative oft the Viennese operetta tradition, a tradition he carried into the worlds of film and Broadway. The notes accompanying this disc tell us that Stolz composed about 50 operettas, 100 film scores, and over 2 000 popular songs.
In addition to his composing Stolz was an important conductor, and he left many recordings of his own music, not always a fortunate thing for other podium figures. The warm lyricism and gentle lilt that mark Stolz's own performances are less present here. Herbert Mogg's approach is bigger in scale, more aggressive at times, though not without merit. Occasionally there is an almost militaristic pulse to the conducting, a certain rythmic insistence that would be more effective if more yielding. But I shouldn't overstate - the performances do move along, and they are more than dutiful. What they lack in charm they compensate for in vigor and energy, and every once in a while there is a surprise. Mogg shapes The Bells of St. Stephan with genuine warmth and affection. Brigitte Lindner's light lyric soprano is perfect for this music - bright and steady in tone, and with a sparkle in ists color. Her feel for the idiom is completely natural, and she inflects and shapes the music with specificity and purpose.
The music itself will appeal to anyone who enjoys Strauss (Johann, that is) and Lehar. Perhaps Stolz wasn't blessed with as much musical subtlety as those composers - his writing tends to be more straightforward and obvious - but he was surely touched with abundant melodic inspriation. This disc makes very pleasant listening. The overall sound quality is warm and natural, but there is a certain hardness at climaxes. MDG provides superb notes in three languages.
BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE - Août 2000
Best-known, especially in the German-speaking world, for his operettas and film music, Austrian composer Robert Stolz occasionally ventured outside the primarily commercial genres to write in a more serious vein. One notable example of this activity is the present song cycle written in 1927 and remarkably designated as his 500th opus ! Stolz described the work as effecting a return to "charm and naivety", since the imagery of the different flowers in the texts also offers opportunities to explore moods of poignancy and sharp irony.
It's somewhat unusual for such a relatively unknown work to enjoy the benefit of two alternative concurrent recordings. But direct comparison between these two releases is complicated by the fact that CPO uses the original texts set by Bruno Hardt-Warden, while MDG adopts Stolz's revised version which places the songs in a different order and employs entirely new lyrics by Günter Loose. As far as the performances are concerned, I tend to prefer Dagmar Schellenberger's wieder tonal palette and the sensitive piano accompaniments of Shelley Katz to the efficient but less imaginative renditions on MDG. Moreover, it should be noted that only CPO provides English translations of the songs.
KLASSIK HEUTE - Octobre 2000
Wie Franz Lehar hatte auch Robert Stolz immer mal wieder den Drang zum "Höheren". Sein Liederzyklus op. 500, 1927/28 in Berlin entstanden, verleugnet die Atmosphäre jener Jahre nicht, auch wenn sein Schöpfer meinte, sich hier "jenseits der Mode" vom "Frondienst des modernen Komponisten" erholt zu haben. Der mit Stolz befreundete Autor Bruno Hardt-Warden hat zwanzig teils heiter-besinnliche, teils frech-ironische Chansontexte beigesteuert, die Musik entspricht den literarischen Vorgaben einfühlsam und einfallsreich. Nichts wirkt prätentiös oder banal, alles ist mit leichter Hand "hingetupft". Eine spätere Version mit neu unterlegten, überwiegend plateren Texten von Günter Loose (1972) lag einer von Stolz selbst besorgten Einspielung sowie der kürzlich von MDG publizierten Aufnahme mit Brigitte Lindner zugrunde. CPO kehrt nun zu der stimmigeren Originalfassung zurück.
Die Wiedergabe zeugt von hohem Kunstverstand und läßt der Kompositionen volle Gerechttigkeit widerfahren. Die Sängerin findet einen genau ausbalancierten Tonfall zwischen Kunstlied und Chanson und schmeckt den Text mit Charme und Witz ab, der Pianist setzt mal sarkastischtrockene, mal unaufdringlich-gemütvolle Akzente.
OPERNGLAS - Octobre 2000
Lied-Einspielungen erfreuen sich schon seit vielen Monaten großer Beliebtheit, sind sie doch nicht zuletzt relativ preiswert anzufertigen. Neben den wohl notwendigen Standard-produktionen veröffentlichen die CD-Firmen aber auch zahllose Raritäten. Ein Komponist, den man wegen seiner Vorliebe zur Operette weniger mit dem Kunstlied verbindet, ist Robert Stolz. Dennoch finden sich unter seinen über 2000 Vokalwerken viele "traditionnelle" Lieder, die heute freilich kaum aufgeführt werden. Aus den Jahren 1927/28 stammen die 20 Blumenlieder, die Dagmar Schellenberger für CPO aufgenommen hat. Diese insgesamt 50 Minuten langen Miniaturen erreichen zwar nicht den Stellenwert großer Liederzyklen, aber für die Zugabenpalette eines Sängers beziehungsweise einer Sängerin ist überaus Entzückendes dabei. Robert Stolz hat hier 20 Blumen (Metaphern für Menschenschicksale) mit einfachen, reizvollen Mitteln beschreiben. Dagmar Schellenberger ist eine stimmige Interpretin, da sie ihren lyrischen Sopran wandlungsfähig und leicht einzusetzen vermag. Nur in exponierten Phrasen wie in der "Roten Rose" werden dramatische Grenzen hörbar. Die Sopranistin trifft den ironischen und erotischen Ton der "Klatschrose" ebenso wie den Humor der "Primel" oder die königliche Aura der "Sonnenblume". Shelley Katz begleitet am Klavier transparent und bevorzugt einen perligen Ansschlag. Das hört sich summa summarum überthaupt nich nach Operette, sondern nach charmanter klassischer Liedkunst an.
FONO FORUM - Juillet 2000
"Stolz wäre stolz"
... Zeitgleich erscheint bei CPO ein Einspielung mit dem unvergleichlich vielschichtigeren ursprünglichen Wortlaut. Nicht nur deshalb, sondern auch wegen der Interpretation ist sie vorzuziehen. Zwar bietet auch Brigitte Lindner mit klarer Aussprache und guter Stimmführung eine beachtliche Leistung, aber die weitaus abwechslungsreichere Gestaltung gelingt Dagmar Schellenberger. Reich an hintergründigem Witz begleitet Shelley Katz, der dem Klavierpart orchestrale Klangfarben entlockt.
Peter P. Pachl
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