> STRAUSS Rosenkavalier Bohm 4636682 [CF]: Classical Reviews- May2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Der Rosenkavalier

Libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal
Sung in German
Die Feldmarschallin - Marianne Schech (soprano)
Baron Ochs - Kurt Böhme (bass)
Octavian - Irmgard Seefried (soprano)
Faninal - Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone)
Sophie - Rita Streich (soprano)
Marianne - Ilona Steingruber (mezzo soprano)
Valzacchi - Gerhard Unger (tenor)
Annina - Sieglinde Wagner (soprano)
Chorus and Orchestra of the Dresden Opera
Karl Böhm (conductor)
Recorded at the Lukaskirche, Dresden, in December 1958
DG 463 668-2 [3CDs: 187’38"]


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There are many great recordings of this marvellous opera. Indeed Karl Böhm was at the helm of one of them a few years before this DG recording. That was when, in 1955, he conducted it with Leonie Rysanek, Emmy Loose, Kurt Böhme and other Straussian luminaries with the Vienna Philharmonic for Decca. Decca also produced a complete version (the first ever) under Erich Kleiber with Reining, Weber, Jurinac, Gueden and the Vienna Philharmonic. We should not forget Karajan’s legendary recording with Schwarzkopf, Ludwig, Stich-Randall, Edelmann, Waechter and the Philharmonia Orchestra for Walter Legge and EMI. This transfer from 1959, again under Karl Böhm, stands alongside them as one of the finest, the cast fairly glittering in its star quality.

Böhm, like Kleiber before him, does not hang around, indeed the opening orchestral introduction, before the dawn chorus, fairly takes your breath away with its turbulence; a little too rushed for my taste. Though Schech does not have a consistently beautiful voice (her monologue is rather variable in quality) she imbues the role of the Marschallin initially with passionate ardour; something which she clearly is not getting from her absent husband the Feldmarschall. She brings tender affection to her bed scene with her lover Octavian, and finally regal dignity. The course of her transition out of womanhood is crucially reported to her hairdresser Hippolyte, ‘Today you have made an old woman of me’. It is not for nothing that after that that she decides to send Octavian as ambassador to carry the silver rose to Sophie, knowing full well the likely outcome. Seefried’s glorious portrayal of Octavian reciprocates her lover’s feelings with all the arrogance and angry jealousy of youth, life stretching before him/her. Unbeknownst to him there is the awaiting love of and for Sophie Faninal. Her transition into the physical and vocal disguise of the Marschallin’s maid Mariandel is nothing short of delicious, and one can understand how the stupid Ochs von Lerchenau fell for her. One has the feeling that in life as well as on this particular operatic stage, Schech and Seefried were true to life, the former in the twilight of her singing career, the latter approaching its zenith. The Marschallin herself says to Octavian that she tried to stop the march of time by stopping the clock in the middle of night, but to no avail.

In this wordy opera (Strauss even accidentally set one of Hofmannsthal’s stage instructions), the diction of all of the singers is impeccably clear as a mountain stream in its Viennese dialects, whether in the refined language of the aristocracy, in the crudely bumbling patois of Baron Ochs (though in his case Böhme avoids Viennese and veers towards his native Saxon), or as parodied by Octavian in his disguise as a maid. As the idiotic, yet ultimately pathetic Baron, Kurt Böhme, soon to join Solti’s cast in Wagner Decca Ring as the giant/dragon Fafner, characterises Ochs to the full. He vocally exploits the extremes (down to a bottom D) of comedy and tragedy, vain, above his station, a coward when it comes to a duel with Octavian. This is clearly a man with unattainable aspirations, a man who loves the sound of his own voice. Listen to how, in Act One, he simultaneously conducts a serious conversation with the Marschallin proclaiming his intention to woo Sophie von Faninal, and at the same time, in a serious of asides, woos Mariandel and tries to set up an assignation - lots of words but all of them clear.

As Sophie, the deliciously graceful Rita Streich is ideal, virginal, sweetly innocent, and seductively beautiful of voice, far too good for Ochs and just right for Octavian as he soon realises, for the Marschallin was right after all. There is also the added bonus in the cast of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau as her father, admittedly too youthful sounding at the age of just thirty-three.

Shortly after the war Georg Szell made the notoriously insulting comment to the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in a rehearsal for this opera, ‘Gentlemen, you do not seem to know this score’. No question of that when it comes to this ‘Zauberharfe’ (Magic Harp) orchestra called the Dresden Staatskapelle, for they too were steeped in the Strauss tradition and it shows. Any lover of Strauss’s miracle opera may go for certain key scenes, the Presentation of the Rose, the love duet, the final trio for the Marschallin, Octavian, and Sophie, as well as other gems such as the Italian singer’s cameo serenade (the young Pavarotti did it but here it is creamy Rudolf Francl) in the levée scene, or the orchestral sequence of Viennese waltzes. However this is a set to listen to from start to finish, omitting nothing.

Christopher Fifield

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