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Heinrich MARSCHNER (1795-1861)
Hans Heiling (1831-32)
Hans Heiling – Alexander Welitsch (bass)
Geisterkönigin – Helene Werth (soprano)
Anna – Margot Guilleaume (soprano)
Konrad – Karl Friedrich (tenor)
Gertrude - Res Fischer (mezzo soprano)
Stephan – Gustav Neidlinger (bass baritone)
Choir and Orchestra of NDR/Wilhelm Schüchter
Recorded in Hamburg, 19-24 June 1950
Bonus: Geisterkönigin - Scene Act II
With Marianne Schech, Maud Cunitz
Choir and Orchestra of Stuttgart Radio/Bertil Wetzelsberger
Recorded 1948


I wasn’t much looking forward to reviewing this disc. My last experience of Walhall was an outrageous Giulio Cesare from Pompeii, by some comfortable distance the worst recording that I’ve ever heard, let alone reviewed; so unlistenable that I called for it to be withdrawn. This Hans Heiling is from the same early post-War vintage and boasts the same kind of rhetoric; First Time on CD – Superb Sound. The lack of attribution and notes, synopses and libretti always grates with the stable of German labels amongst whom Walhall is one. The cheapness of their product needs to be balanced against concern for the consumer, informed or otherwise. And I still harbour grave reservations about some of the product being issued in this way – so caveat emptor.

That said, my fears as to sound proved misplaced. It’s pretty much vintage 1950 German radio broadcast quality and that means very fine indeed. Better still the rarity value gives it cachet; Hans Heiling may be less well known than Der Vampyr but the consistency and imagination of the orchestration and the melody lines are hardly inferior. In fact they are arguably stronger across the length of the respective works. If we accept Marschner as the pivotal German operatic composer between Weber and Wagner – not such a contentious proposition – then it is in our interest to pay him the attention he deserves. In terms of romantic engagement and lyrical attraction his themes are often memorable and never less than competently engaging, and his story lines resonate with the Gothic and the romantic stirrings of forest and the supernatural (Hans Heiling is just such a supernatural apparition who plays jokes on mortals in time honoured fashion). Marschner took care with his librettist, Eduard Devrient, who fashioned a convincing scenario. For this radio production certain concessions were necessary. A speaker, Eduard Marks, outlines the plot. There are fourteen of these plot summaries and whilst we are familiar with them from radio broadcasts in our time they tend to come today as summaries before the Acts begin. Here you may well find the number of them distracting and you may want to programme your CD accordingly.

The cast is not a particularly stellar one in international terms but it shows the strength in depth of German operatic houses of the time. Alexander Welitsch proves a witty Hans complete with some avuncular spread and strong dramatic profile. Helene Werth excels in her First Act duet (in the section marked O blieb bei mir).  As Anna Margot Guilleaume impresses as well though the slightly deadening studio acoustic exacerbates her rather insistent vibrato. The Chorus proves hearty, not too large, but effective. One can savour Marschner’s string writing in such as the warmth of the Second Act scene for Gertrude Wo nur Ännchen bleibt? as one can equally from the solemn writing Marschner employs with such theatrical precision and impact. The Third Act orchestral march seems to presage Humperdinck; in fact Marschner’s influence on subsequent operatic developments has been consistently undervalued. Coupled with this (abridged) 1950 radio production is a slightly earlier 1948 broadcast from Stuttgart of a scene for Anna in Act II – in muddier sound but a suitable pendant.

Caution is still necessary for all the reasons I noted above but as a souvenir of this intelligent 1950 production there are many rewards to be garnered.

Jonathan Woolf


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