After Irmgard Seefried’s death in 1988, her contemporary Elisabeth Schwarzkopf – never one to dish out compliments lightly – commented: ‘All of us envied her, because what we had to achieve laboriously worked for her so naturally and as a matter of course, because she knew how to sing from the heart’.
Freshness, spontaneity, natural warmth of feeling, allied to a voice of gleaming beauty and a delightful stage presence: these were the hallmarks of a much-loved soprano who for three decades charmed and moved audiences in the theatre and concert hall, her face as expressive as her voice. As John Steane memorably put it in Gramophone, ‘it was as though she wore her own spotlight’.
Born in the Swabian town of Köngetried in 1919, Seefried was ‘discovered’, aged twenty, by Herbert von Karajan in Aachen, where she made her operatic debut as the Priestess in Aida. In 1943 she sang Eva in Die Meistersinger for the Wiener Staatsoper, initiating an association that lasted until 1976. It was in Strauss and Mozart that Seefried was most admired.
Issued over eleven single-disc volumes, Deutsche Grammophon / Eloquence pays tribute to Irmgard Seefried, bringing back to circulation several recordings that have never previously been issued on CD. The music ranges through opera and oratorio, with an especially generous offering of art song from a range of composers, including Schubert, Schumann, Wolf, Hindemith and Egk. The notes for the series have been written by that leading connoisseur of the voice, Richard Wigmore.
Volume 2 showcases Seefried in further operatic roles including such rarities as Lortzing’s Der Wildschütz and Thomas’s Mignon in which Seefried performed the mezzo role of the waif Mignon on stage, in German translation (then the norm in German opera houses), and recorded two of her arias. With her viola-like warmth of tone and dramatic immediacy, Seefried was Jochum’s unhesitating choice as the heroine Agathe in Der Freischütz. Octavian – which she often played opposite Schwarzkopf’s Sophie or Marschallin – became another signature role and the disc presents nearly 40 minutes of music from Der Rosenkavalier in the 1958 Dresden recording conducted by Karl Böhm.
“She is appropriately bright and jolly in the Wildschütz scenes, and wistful and concerned in the Freischütz […] her Octavian may well be her best complete role on disc.” Fanfare
“It is almost possible to see the adolescent fire in this young Octavian’s eye, as he rails against the arrival of day or declares himself lord of the Marschallin’s bedroom […] The best of her portrayals, like the Octavian, combine vocal certainty with ardour, freshness and energy. There is an uplifting Agathe from Der Freischütz, singing her first aria with a lovely youthful impulsiveness” Gramophone