The Art of Lotte Schöne
‘Schone’ of voice and (I’m sure) nature as well as name, this delightful soprano is one of the few for whom an average modern listener, at this distance of 60 to 70 years, does not have to make some kind of ‘historical’ adjustment. She sings with unflawed beauty of tone, technical mastery and sureness of taste; if we found these qualities in a modern singer we would take her to our hearts right away but we would not feel that, stylistically or in some other sense, we had an anachronism in our midst. Mozart is usually the great tester in this respect, but to this day there is no lovelier account of Pamina’s aria in Die Zauberflote and no Despina with more infectious gaiety and feeling for rhythm than Lotte Schone’s in these recordings from 1928. As for the glimpses we have of her Gilda and Mimi, her Manon, Butterfly and Liu, there is no touch which makes us cry “Dated!” or indeed which makes us think anything other than how fortunate we would count ourselves if she were still with us and singing like that today.
It was as Liu, the slave-girl, that she won the immediate admiration of London audiences. This was at the British premiere of Turandot in 1927, when out of that cast she was everybody’s favourite singer, setting a standard by which all her successors in the role came to be judged. At that time her career was centred on Berlin, where she was an essential part of the famous ensemble under Bruno Walter. Like him, she could no longer stay in Germany when the Nazis came to power, but her career continued for a while in Paris (where she sang Melisande), and, in hiding, she managed to survive the war, even, at an advanced age, making a few private records.
Those assembled here in the Preiser collection are all taken from her best years, the first disc comprising records from the late pre-electrical era and the second having the complete run of HMV recordings from 1927 to 1931 (only the operetta duets with Wittrisch being omitted). The early items include two that were unpublished in their time, The Blue Danube and Valse caprice, both beautifully sung, and the gems are two solos from operettas, one a kind of gipsy song from Cagliostro in Wien, the other from Millocker’s Der arme Jonathan with the implausible title “Ach, wir armen Primadonnen”. The real treasures are found on the second disc, and I must mention the single failure lest nobody believe another word I say – this is Schubert’s Der Hirt auf dem Felsen, about which a great deal is wrong, starting with the orchestral accompaniment. For the rest, the whole sequence is a blissful one, ending with the solos from Turandot, which show exactly why the Covent Garden audience held their breath in 1927 and remembered their first Liu for ever after.'