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Complete Recitals of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf
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‘Elisabeth Schwarzkopf: The Complete Recitals 1952-1974’ Review

A collection celebrates the German soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf.

Despite her wide popularity in the second half of the last century, the German soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, born 100 years ago this month, always had voluble detractors. “Too arch” was the most persistent criticism, and even her fans (this writer among them) had to allow that such carping occasionally had merit. But Schwarzkopf’s exquisite diction, glinting tone (silvery in the early years; golden later on) and depth of feeling—especially in music by Mozart, Schubert, Strauss and Hugo Wolf—mattered far more.

Her reputation was tarnished late in life when it was reported that she’d had ties to the Nazi party at the beginning of her career. And time’s passing erodes the standing of most artists, even those, like Schwarzkopf, widely preserved on record. For decades, she was associated with EMI, where her husband, the English record producer Walter Legge, exerted wide authority. EMI is no more, but Warner Classics purchased its classical catalog and has recently released a handsome 31-disc centenary tribute to the soprano.

“Elisabeth Schwarzkopf: The Complete Recitals 1952-1974” offers greater musical variety than its title implies, with recitals in this case meaning not just programs of art songs accompanied by piano, but also arias with full orchestra and even extended operatic scenes with other singers. The discs are arranged chronologically (for the most part), so the set begins with Schwarzkopf at her freshest.

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