Of all the requisites that go to make a successful singer the voice is the least important. Many vocalists manage entirely without it. Personality, private connections, stage presence, a propensity for mimish mannerisms (called acting), musical erudition, and a faithful regard for the enunciation of consonants—these form the anatomy of the singer. But the voice itself, the very soul of this anatomy, is often far to seek.
Consequently, to hear last Sunday at the Arts Theatre a recital in which this soul was present in full measure made one realise what a shortage we suffer in our language of words able to express really high admiration, really enthusiastic bouleversement. Songs of Praise are copious; praise of songs is scarce; which is surprising in a country where singing is an accepted cure for the more pathological cases of stuttering.
Miss Schwarzkopf combines in very high degree the dramatic presence and the vocal ability I have just mentioned. Her singing was, on the whole, a miracle of control, of nice placing of notes, of exquisite musical phrasing—and of golden melody in an unceasingly grateful stream that would have put to shame even the most sophisticated West End nightingale.
The programme included “An die Musik” and “An Sylvia,” with four other Schubert songs, and the delicious “Marienwurmchen” in the Schumann group. We heard songs of Martini, Bizet and Brahms; and in addition we were reminded that Dvorak’s mother had taught him a song or two—(alas!); and the concert ended with groups of Wolf and Strauss.
Of the voice I have spoken: Concerning the freshness, the variety, and the intelligence of this singer in expressing the music, I can only add yet another gasp of astonished delight.
I would guess, however, that Miss Schwarzkopf was not entirely at her most rested and relaxed. She is undoubtedly a busy woman, and fatigue (I take it to be fatigue) made her just a teeny bit sharp in several of the songs requiring pianissimo. But there again, having (for instance) started Schubert’s “Litanei” in E half-flat instead of E flat, her intonation was so pure that she remained in that same key for the whole of a phrase at a time. But the rest of her performance so outweighed this very minor blemish, that I would not mention the matter, except perhaps to blame the acoustics and ventilation of the theatre. The acoustics are deathly quiet and the ventilation distinctly noisy. Even with the vents turned off it is an unrewarding process to make music there. Considering all this, Miss Schwarzkopf was really remarkable.
I was glad to see that the stage had been decorated with suitably blank-looking human beings. Potted Aspidistra would have been as good, but these plants do not usually pay to come in. They have, however, an endearing dissimilarity from the human flora; their reproductive cycle (or incidence of oestrus, if you like) only comes round once in a dozen years. On the other hand, human beings count as “open windows,” according to some old scientist’s tale—and this may be a hygienic advantage.
Ernest Lush was at the piano and displayed great skill and sensitivity. The piano (whose reproductive cycle is on its last wheels) did not seen to be serving him quite fairly in the matter of pedals. I think the chain needs adjusting.