Frida Leider - A Vocal portrait
During the inter-war years Frida Leider commanded a devotion, particularly among audiences at Covent Garden, matched only by their appreciation of Lotte Lehmann and, in the few seasons of her appearances there, Rosa Ponselle. Even when Flagstad arrived in 1936 and two years later Leider sang in the house for the last time, her public remained loyal; some even found that they could hardly bear to hear Tristan und Isolde and Götterdämmerung without her. It was a combination of voice and presence: both intensified and concentrated the experience. And all agree that everything about her – the thrill and intelligence of her singing, her face, her hands – was intensely expressive.
The recurrent word, as you see, is ‘intense’ (or some variant). A newcomer listening to the records may, and I should think would, be immediately impressed and soon come to love them as I do; yet a question may still remain. Just where do you locate the ‘intensity’? It isn’t to any special degree in the words; still less in any expressive mobility of ‘face’ (as ‘seen’ through the singing). In fact, if there is a limitation I would say it lies in a certain fixity of seriousness. Yet there is a wonderfully dramatic quality about her recorded performances – and it lies, surely, in the voice itself, its command of vibrancy played off against the straightest, firmest line of sound ever ruled; and also in the warmly human tones of the middle register, which in turn will cede to an authority of tone that is essentially patrician.
The two discs here (another Naxos bargain) represent her well. In just over half the tracks she is heard singing Wagner, the whole recital culminating in Brünnhilde’s immolation scene where one really does feel the presence as they did on those great nights at Covent Garden. The rest rounds out the ‘portrait’ which the discs claim to offer. Famous recordings from Armide, Don Giovanni and Fidelio come to life, like well-lit paintings, with startling vividness in Ward Marston’s transfers. Rarer items, including some superb Verdi, may even steal the exhibition from its Wagnerian centrepieces. The Lieder probably won’t do that, but at least one of them, Schumann’s Meine Rose, has a way of recurring in the memory with Leider’s voice attached. It is one of those voices which, once ‘learnt’, become a permanent possession.