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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN
Fidelio. Leonore Overture No. 3.
Christa Ludwig (mezzo) Leonore; Jon Vickers (tenor) Florestan; Walter Berry (bass) Don Pizarro; Gottlob Frick (bass) Rocco; Ingeborg Hallstein (soprano) Marzelline; Gerhard Unger (tenor) Jaquino; Franz Crass (bass) Don Fernando; Kurt Wehofschitz (tenor) First Prisoner; Raymond Wolansky (baritone) Second Prisoner; Philharmonia Chorus and Orchestra/Otto Klemperer.
EMI Great Recordings of the Century CMS5 67364-2 [two discs] [142.52] [ADD]

It is the easiest thing in the World to argue for hours about what constitutes a truly 'great' recording or a truly 'great' performance. Perhaps it is that if, when one listens, the experience is so convincing that the piece could not be imagined in any other way. Whatever it is, there is no doubt that the epithet 'great' is one of the most misused in the English language.

One or two of the recordings included in EMI's Great Recordings of the Century series may be contentious choices, but this one seems to shout out for inclusion. Klemperer's studio Fidelio has been accorded classic status since it was issued in the early sixties, and listening to this newest incarnation it is easy to hear why. The pacing is inevitable and, to use an overused term for all things Klempererisch, monumental. Everything in the score, from the Overture (already in Klemperer's hands pregnant with the drama about to unfold, no mere opera buffa scene-setter) to Leonore's unveiling and the final uplifting chorus of triumph feels 'right'. The bonus here is that the recording itself emerges better than ever: details that previously went unnoticed become clear and the sonic stage is clearly focussed.

There are some great individual performances here, too: and, it must be noted, a not-so-great one in the form of Ingeborg Hallstein's somewhat tremulous Marzelline. This fault is not too disturbing in the opening duet with Jacquino, but becomes more so in O War ich schon mit dir vereint. Gottlob Frick's Rocco moves from the characterful Hat man nicht auch Gold beineben of Act One to a person of real depth. Franz Crass has the right weight to make the ethical pronouncements of the second act appropriately telling.

The two main protagonists, Ludwig and Vickers, are the real stars: both are every inch the equal of Klemperer's interpretation and Beethoven's demands. Ludwig is inspirational in her Abschelicher! (the horn quartet playing as one here) and Vickers' aria which opens the second act finds him on top form. His initial cry of Gott! Welch' Dunkel hier! is heart-rending, his hallucination of Leonore as an angel completely convincing. The final scene is ideally paced by Klemperer so as to appear a truly fitting climax to the opera. The soloists pick up the elevated mood and deliver a quintet at O Gott! Welch' ein Augenblick! which is an oasis of peace and hope.

EMI append Klemperer's Leonore Overture No. 3, a performance full of dramatic fire. If wished, the listener can programme the CD player to play Leonore No. 3 between the two scenes of Act 2.

Richard Osborne's accompanying notes are as informed as one would expect from this source.

If you haven't already heard this performance, this set is an essential purchase.


Colin Clarke



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