The Art of Joseph Schmidt (1904-1942)

Author: 
Michael Oliver

The Art of Joseph Schmidt (1904-1942)

  • (L')Africaine, '(The) African Maid', ~, Pays merveilleux
  • (L')Africaine, '(The) African Maid', ~, O Paradis
  • (L')Africaine, '(The) African Maid', ~, Conduisez-moi
  • Martha, ~, Ach so fromm (M'appari tutt'amor)
  • Alessandro Stradella
  • Rigoletto, La donna è mobile
  • (Il) trovatore, ~, Deserto sulla terra
  • (Il) trovatore, ~, Di quella pira
  • (Le) Cid, ~, Ah! tout est bien fini
  • (Le) Cid, ~, O souverain, ô juge, ô père
  • Pagliacci, 'Players', ~, Recitar!
  • Pagliacci, 'Players', ~, Vesti la giubba
  • Tosca, Recondita armonia
  • Tosca, E lucevan le stelle
  • Tosca, ~, Amaro sol per te
  • Tosca, ~, Trionfal...Di nova speme
  • (La) Fanciulla del West, '(The) Girl of the Golden, ~, Or son sei mesi
  • (La) Fanciulla del West, '(The) Girl of the Golden, Ch'ella mi creda libero
  • Turandot, Non piangere, Liù!
  • Turandot, Nessun dorma!
  • (Le) Postillon de Lonjumeau, Mes amis, écoutez l'histoire (Freunde, vernehmetichte)
  • (Der) Evangelimann, ~, Selig sind, die Verfolgung leiden
  • (Der) Evangelimann, ~, Lasset die Kleinen zu mir kommen!
  • (Die) tote Stadt, ~, Glück, das mir verblieb (Mariettalied)
  • Simplicius
  • Don César, Komm' herab, O Madonna Theresa
  • Ziguenerliebe, 'Gipsy Love', Ich bin ein Zigeunerkind
  • (Der) Page des Königs
  • Wenn der alte Brunnen rauscht
  • (Le) Vallière
  • Buon notte, schöne Signorina
  • Warum gehst du vorbei an mir
  • Wenn du treulos bist
  • Einmal glaub't ich an deine Liebe
  • Liebe kleine Frau
  • (El) Trust de los tenorios
  • Penso
  • Tarantella sincera
  • Voga, voga
  • (L') Ariatella
  • Soirées musicales, La danza (tarantella napoletana: wds. C Pepoli)
  • Piscatore 'e pusilleco
  • Nun mi sceta
  • Mandulinata a Napule
  • Tiritomba
  • (L')Africaine, '(The) African Maid', ~, Pays merveilleux
  • (L')Africaine, '(The) African Maid', ~, O Paradis
  • (L')Africaine, '(The) African Maid', ~, Conduisez-moi
  • Martha, ~, Ach so fromm (M'appari tutt'amor)
  • Alessandro Stradella
  • Rigoletto, La donna è mobile
  • (Il) trovatore, ~, Deserto sulla terra
  • (Il) trovatore, ~, Di quella pira
  • (Le) Cid, ~, Ah! tout est bien fini
  • (Le) Cid, ~, O souverain, ô juge, ô père
  • Pagliacci, 'Players', ~, Recitar!
  • Pagliacci, 'Players', ~, Vesti la giubba
  • Tosca, Recondita armonia
  • Tosca, E lucevan le stelle
  • Tosca, ~, Amaro sol per te
  • Tosca, ~, Trionfal...Di nova speme
  • (La) Fanciulla del West, '(The) Girl of the Golden, ~, Or son sei mesi
  • (La) Fanciulla del West, '(The) Girl of the Golden, Ch'ella mi creda libero
  • Turandot, Non piangere, Liù!
  • Turandot, Nessun dorma!
  • (Le) Postillon de Lonjumeau, Mes amis, écoutez l'histoire (Freunde, vernehmetichte)
  • (Der) Evangelimann, ~, Selig sind, die Verfolgung leiden
  • (Der) Evangelimann, ~, Lasset die Kleinen zu mir kommen!
  • (Die) tote Stadt, ~, Glück, das mir verblieb (Mariettalied)
  • Simplicius
  • Don César, Komm' herab, O Madonna Theresa
  • Ziguenerliebe, 'Gipsy Love', Ich bin ein Zigeunerkind
  • (Der) Page des Königs
  • Wenn der alte Brunnen rauscht
  • (Le) Vallière
  • Buon notte, schöne Signorina
  • Warum gehst du vorbei an mir
  • Wenn du treulos bist
  • Einmal glaub't ich an deine Liebe
  • Liebe kleine Frau
  • (El) Trust de los tenorios
  • Penso
  • Tarantella sincera
  • Voga, voga
  • (L') Ariatella
  • Soirées musicales, La danza (tarantella napoletana: wds. C Pepoli)
  • Piscatore 'e pusilleco
  • Nun mi sceta
  • Mandulinata a Napule
  • Tiritomba

The Romanian-born tenor Joseph Schmidt was held back from realizing the full potential of his remarkable gifts by three misfortunes: the rise of the Nazis (he was Jewish, and they came to power in Germany just as his reputation there was at its height), his early death (in a refugee camp at the age of 38) and his height: an operatic career was effectively closed to him by the fact that he was under five feet tall.
It has been said that his voice is audibly that of a small man, but there is no lack of power to it. Its upper range (it rises without strain to the high C and with only a little to the D above) is indeed of an at times reedy brightness while some lower notes are either effortful or husky. There is a slightly nasal quality throughout which can give a rather fretful feel to declamatory passages, but Schmidt's immaculately suave phrasing, his beautifully warm legato, his taste and musicianship very largely compensate for this: his Verdi and Puccini are thoughtful and unexaggerated, not a single bellowed sob mars his Leoncavallo and the restraint of his Meyerbeer and Flotow remind us of how much is lost when their music is sung as though it were by Mascagni. The voice has a flexibility not often met with in singers of this repertory: he can turn a florid phrase, even a trill, with precision, and it is sad that no one seems to have thought to ask him to record arias by Bellini or Donizetti, his earnest style, with its touch of melancholy, would have suited them. In the standard tenor arias though, which fill most of the first two sides of this generous collection, either a reserved temperament or a lack of stage experience deprive him of sheer Italianate vocal exuberance: his ''La donna e mobile'' is quite beautiful but not dashing, not insinuating his rather slow ''Di quella pira'', despite its thrilling interpolated high notes, is not swashbuckling; the famous showpiece aria from Adam's Le postillon de Longjumeau is carefully and conscientiously sung, but without a hint of debonair humour. Where sincerity and expressive line are more important than vocal machismo he can teach many modern tenors a thing or two he gives attractive accounts of ''Nessun dorma'' (beginning quietly and almost breathily, opening out later all the more effectively) and of the usual arias from Kienzl's Der Evangelimann and Korngold's Die tote Stadt— but in operatic music he is generally more admirable than exciting.
The lighter music on Sides 3 and 4 is mostly, not to put too fine a point upon it, rubbish (the direst items here are a tawdry gipsy tango by Benatzky and De Crescenzo's vulgarly jovial, misnamed Tarantella sincera, but there are others almost as bad). Frustratingly enough, though, it is here that Schmidt displays some of those qualities that are missing in his more serious repertoire. He may never have sung Il trovatore or Rigoletto on stage but he had a lot of experience in film studios, and it shows in the sentimental charm of some Neapolitan numbers, in Biscardi's pretty L'ariatella (exquisitely phrased), in a tender account of Tosti's Penso (for all that it lies uncomfortably low for him) and in such trifles as Gotze's Was war' mein Lied (Schmidt's expressive cantabile here rises to a genuine, Tauber-like ardour) and Altmann's coarsely scored waltz-song Wenn der alte Brunnen rauscht (whose phrasing has all the charm that one longed for in his Adam aria). Was he more at home with tosh than with real music? No: even the more inhibited of his operatic recordings contain moments of such refined vocal finesse that one wants to hear them again (his ''Vesti la giubba'', say: all the emotion in the phrasing, without a suspicion of histrionics), but if only the two Schmidts could have been combined he might have been one of the century's great tenors. The recordings were made between 1929 and 1936 and are mostly very good (the occasional edginess is as much a property of the voice as of the microphone) and they have been admirably transferred.'

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