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<<  -- 4 --  Roderic Dunnett    THE NORTHERN SCHUBERT

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The composer himself was 'a larger than life performer of his own songs', says Stokes : 'he had a handsome, imposing presence, and a very fine baritone voice, full of character, which of course you need for ballad. Someone came up to him once after a performance and said 'well bellowed, Mr Loewe' : it must have been like that in the ballads -- you can just imagine him, eyes rolling, ghoulishly evoking those personalities out of Fontane or Herder, lending character to Tom the Rhymer, Edward, or Archibald Douglas.'

'Another thing about Loewe is that he always tells a story well. He handles narration superbly. What's more -- and this is often missed -- he's immensely witty. He loves to poke fun, to prick vanities, or to see the comic side of a character, and this can produce some of his best and lightest songs, which have tended to get wrongly overlooked alongside the ballads. Der verliebte Schäferin Scapine, for instance, about a couple who get their revenge on a crooked doctor, or Gutmann und Gutweib -- a classic folk tale about an old couple who have an argument (in highly amusing, ghostly circumstances) about who is going to get up and shut the door : a theme which Loewe turns into a song of unalloyed comic genius.'

Simon Over, conductor-designate of London's newly-formed Southbank Sinfonia, was accompanist for the recital, which aptly offset Loewe with his younger contemporary, Mendelssohn. If anything, he says, it's Loewe's non-ballad settings which have bowled him over. Lynkeus the Watchman (another Goethe setting, from Act 5 of Faust part II, in which the watchman hymns the beauty of all he surveys) 'is, I think, absolutely gorgeous. You can see exactly why Liszt dubbed this song a masterpiece.' (Both Loewe's watchman songs are superbly sung by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau on DG 449 516-2.)

Carl Loewe Balladen & Lieder. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Jörg Demus. CD cover © DG

'Loewe's piano writing is always clear -- it never gets in the way of the text. Certainly his songs are more backward than forward-looking in manner, but as a word painter he is incredibly skilled. Goethe's Chinese Canzonetta has a gentle rippling accompaniment, like Donizetti. For Über allen Gipfeln (one of two Wandrers Nachtlieder performed by Louise Mott), Loewe uses the same repeating chord at the start, and then varies it by tiny changes. The emotional impact of that is astonishing.'

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Copyright © 7 February 2002 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK

 

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FISCHER-DIESKAU SINGS LOEWE ON DG

 

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