Zum Konzert am 7. März 1968 in London

The Guardian, London, 8. März 1964

Mahler - LSO - Szell

The last time we heard Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in partnership at the Royal Festival Hall was at Gerald Moore’s farewell almost a year ago, and for last night’s concert when they sang again in duet, there was - even without the prompting of a farewell - the same sense of occasion. When the two greatest Lieder singers in the world perform with Britain’s finest orchestra (the LSO) under the conductor who has trained America’s finest orchestra (George Szell) those incontestable superlatives can hardly add up to less.

The work was Mahler’s "Des Knaben Wunderhorn" cycle, a key work that has been strangely neglected both in concerts and on record. It is only three or four years since we had the first complete British performance, and that at St Pancras Town Hall, but now one can hardly help seeing it as central in Mahler’s output.

"Work", one says, but in fact these settings make up a fluid group, for there is no question of automatically obeying the arbitrary order of the two published collections. Rightly the performers chose their own order, sometimes contrasting, sometimes linking related songs. The high comedy of "Wer hat dies Liedlein erdacht?" "Lob des hohen Verstandes" (about the cuckoo, the nightingale and the donkey), and St Anthony’s Sermon was kept together in the middle with each song winning an illicit round of applause, and that left the way clear for a darkly memorable close. The Song of the Prisoner in the Tower, "Trost im Unglück" and "Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen" came in sombre sequence, each one given as a duet.

On that point of treating the songs as duets where possible, the performance was again on strong ground, for the score allows latitude on which voice sings what, both between and within songs. On the division of the solos it seemed strange at first to have Fischer-Dieskau doing "Wer hat dies Liedlein", so long associated with a sparkling Elisabeth Schumann, but the outrageous accelerando at the end brought a moment of extra comedy between singer and conductor, and one would not want to have missed that. It paved the way superbly for Schwarzkopf’s comic tour de force in the cuckoo and donkey dialogue, something we have long relished in her recitals with piano.

The LSO respnded to Szell’s meticulous direction with some really sensitive playing. If sometimes discipline suffered fractionally, when Szell’s demands were at their most subtle, that was a marginal fault. In Mozart’s "Jupiter" Symphony he had shown quite a different, much less romantic style. With a full body of strings (58 players) he insisted on exact, unvaried tempi, fast but unrushed. In the finale he exacted something like Cleveland standards in the exactness and clarity of the rushing quavers.

Edward Greenfield

     Daily Telegraph, London, 8. März 1964     

Mahler - LSO - Szell

Mozart’s "Jupiter" Symphony, K. 551, would probably win a unanimous vote as one of the topmost peaks of European culture. It was given a worthy performance by the London Symphony Orchestra under George Szell at the Festival Hall last night.


Mahler’s songs from "Des Knaben Wunderhorn" seemed much more than a century removed from Mozart’s symphony. The collection and editing of these early ballads and folk songs by Arnim and Brentano was an early example of what musicians now call "realisation". As such it won the express approval of Goethe.

Mahler’s settings go a step further, combining characteristically Expressionist exaggerations in the vocal line and the delicate but heavily - shaded orchestration while preserving (and even exaggerating) the sweetness and naiveté of traditional melodic patterns.

The instrumental writing, with its dark undertones and exquisite detail, shows Mahler at his best. Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau caught perfectly the tone of sophisticated simplicity and that note of tragic anxiety only just below even the thickest layer of cream in this very Viennese dish.

Martin Cooper

     Financial Times, London, 8. März 1964     

Mahler - LSO - Szell

George Szell is in London for a brief spell with the LSO. The programme of Mozart and Mahler they gave last night will be repeated on Sunday afternoon. It is worth going to considerable lengths to get a scat - if there are any left. Besides the Jupiter symphony the programme includes Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn, sung by Schwarzkopf and Fischer-Dieskau. The now common practice of including with the cycle the two songs published separately was followed.

In some performances the intense bitterness and grimness of Revelge and Der Tamboursg’sell overweight the slighter, more humorous songs. Sung and played as they were last night, the sardonic streak in the smaller songs was so marked that they were well able to hold the balance. That they could do so was all the same remarkable, since earlier on, was superbly done by both soprano and baritone. In this song, too, the orchestra’s quiet playing was as magical as the dazzling details in the more brilliant pages. The simple accompaniment of muted strings with plucked cellos to the soprano’s "Willkommen, lieber Knabe mein" was inexplicably lovely.

It is not discredit to the other departments of the LSO to say that the strings were in admirable form throughout the concert. Nowhere more so than in the slow movement of the Jupiter, where the soft runs were as smoooth, supple and strong as the finest silk. Szell kept the woodwind rather more subdued than we are accustomed to, but important solo entries were always perfectly clear. This was another performance of the highest interest and distinction, deserving much more than a perfunctory salute.

Szell unleashed a torrent of biting orchestral wrath in Revelge and gave the utmost value to the funereal colours of Der Tamboursg’sell, Fischer-Dieskau’s voice - and his words - sailed through with incomparable mastery.

Schwarzkopf needs time before her immensely versatile voice comes under absolute control, and naturally one notices this more when she is singing one work than in a complete solo recital. Last night in her first song, Das irdische Leben, the tone was still plummy and her coy lass in Verlor’ne Müh was like Strauss’s Mariandl magnified. Improvement, however, was rapid. The final phrase of the sentry’s dream girl in Der Schildwache Nachtlied was breathed like a distant sigh.

Even before the tone has cleared and the voice comes free, Schwarzkopf has an uncanny ability to convey the sense of words while the actual vowels remain cloudy. But this stage was long passed when she reached Lob des hohen Verstandes, riotously impersonating donkey and cuckoo. There is much more in this Wunderhorn clamouring for mention, such as the baritone’s rollicking Wer hat dies Liedlein erdacht, the final roulade like Bach at his secular jolliest.

The best of all came at the end, with Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen, whose spectral fanfares wistfully echoed the fiercer military music of the tragic songs.

Ronald Crichton

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