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Elisabeth Ohms (1888-1974) and Gertrude Kappel (1884-1971)
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Fidelio – Abscheulicher
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)

Oberon – Ozean, du Ungeheuer
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)

Der fliegende Holländer – Traft ihr das Schiff
Der fliegende Holländer – Versank ich jetzt with Theodor Scheidl #
Tristan und Isolde – Mild und leise #
Wesendonck Lieder

Schmerzen #
Träume #
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)

Der Rosenkavalier – Kann mich auch an ein Mädel erinnern
Der Rosenkavalier – Oh, sei er gut, Quinquin
Der Rosenkavalier – Hab’ mir’s gelobt with Adele Kern and Elfriede Marherr #
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)

Die Walküre – Ho jo to ho! *
Götterdämmerung – Starke Scheite schichtet mir dort *
Guiseppe VERDI (1813-1901)

La Forza del Destino – Pace, pace, mio Dio *
Charles François GOUNOD (1818-1893)

Faust – Engelchor! *
Elizabeth Ohms (soprano) except * Gertrude Kappel (soprano)
Orchestra of the Staatsoper, Berlin/Manfred Gurlitt
Orchestra of the Staatsoper, Berlin/Julius Prüwer #
Recorded 1924-29
PREISER 89521 [78.32]


Contemporaries and internationally acclaimed Wagnerians, Ohms and Kappel make worthily matched discmates. Elisabeth Ohms, the more famous of the two, was born in Arnheim in 1888. After training in Amsterdam she moved to Frankfurt and took her first roles in Mainz. But it was in Munich that she really made her mark, giving the city’s premiere of Turandot and attracting sufficient attention from Toscanini for him to invite her to La Scala in 1927 and 1929 (Kundry and Isolde respectively). She was heard in Vienna, under Strauss, at Covent Garden and at the Met. As her celebrity increased so she moved closer to the vortex of Wagnerian influence, first singing at Bayreuth in 1931 (under Toscanini, who’d asked for her). When one considers that she’d made her debut in Frankfurt a decade earlier – and that almost in default of an earlier desire to play the violin – then her ascent is little short of meteoric. And yet that career became increasingly circumscribed, with Ohms turning down numerous foreign invitations and performing increasingly in Munich. Her retirement in 1942 meant that she had sung professionally for twenty years though the period of her greatest triumphs was perhaps no more than eight or ten years in duration. She died in Bavaria in 1974.

Preiser has collated a representative collection of her recordings, all made in 1929. She was a dramatic soprano of powerful presence, with a beautifully sustained legato and uncompromising intelligence. Her Fidelio extract is moving by virtue of its control and still more so her Oberon, where diction, architectural span, surety of technique and beauty of tone are all present in abundance. Even in an age spoiled with soprano talent Ohms could clearly carve out an important niche for herself. Her Flying Dutchman has plenty of bite, and a ringing declamatory top and she makes a good pairing with Theodor Scheidl, whilst her Isolde, taken at a measured tempo, is superbly voiced. The two songs from the Wesendonck Lieder show two further things; firstly a technical point – at times her intonation does flatten; and secondly a quality of histrionic projection; she had a rare ability to vest her singing with a touching, almost tragic quality. Partly this is a question of voice type but much more it relates to her powers of voice deployment and to stage virtues that she can successfully convey through the microphone. It’s a rare enough quality to note. Her Rosenkavalier must have been wonderful to see; on disc it’s strongly characterised and energised. Those qualities of dramatic projection and legato phraseology inform everything she does and these sides are evidence of a consistently superior musician. Her later withdrawal from the wider operatic and concert stages was very much our loss.

Kappel is represented by four items – in fact four issued 78 sides and two apparently previously unissued sides. Four years older than Ohms Kappel studied in Leipzig under Nikisch, no less. Making her debut in Hanover in Fidelio she was quickly invited to a series of prestigious engagements, being especially popular at Covent Garden where she sang The Ring. She sang frequently under her old teacher Nikisch and soon Richard Strauss recommended her to the Vienna State Opera (debut, 1921) and he ensured that she perform Donna Anna with him at the following year’s Salzburg Festival. Bruno Walter employed her repeatedly and her New York Met debut was, inevitably perhaps, in Wagner and greatly admired once more. That said, as Preiser’s notes remind us, for a singer of her obvious standing she made relatively few recordings. An early series for Favorite in 1911 yielded 16 pieces and she also recorded 6 sides for Grammophon. She died in 1971.

There has always been something of a debate surrounding Kappel’s voice type - soprano or mezzo? The fact remains that she was given soprano roles and she brings to her undeservedly meagre recorded legacy the kind of heroic vibrancy that Ohms did – all the better reason for these two to be bracketed thus together. Her Immolation Scene is full of tremendous tonal resources and great style – she was indeed a truly stylish singer on the evidence of these precious sides. The late acoustics sound well, the voice being forwardly recorded but well balanced against the orchestra. I wouldn’t say that it was a big voice (maybe a little pinched at the top as well in Ho jo to ho) but it was undeniably deployed with considerable acumen. Her Verdi is maybe on a slightly lesser plane but it’s marginal. Both the Faust and the Ho jo to ho are noted as unissued at the time.

They have survived in good shape, and all these sides sound well balanced and well filtered. They’re a pleasure to listen to, as are the noble protagonists of this rather fascinating and entirely successful disc.

Jonathan Woolf

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