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Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Der Rosenkavalier (1909-10)
Kiri te Kanawa (soprano) – die Feldmarschallin;
Kurt Rydl (bass) – der Baron Ochs von Lerchenau;
Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo) – Octavian;
Barbara Hendricks (soprano) – Sophie;
Franz Grundheber (baritone) – Herr von Faninal;
Julia Faulkner (soprano) – Marianne;
Graham Clark (tenor) – Valzacchi;
Claire Powell (contralto) – Aninia.
Boys of the Dresden Kreuzchor
Dresden Staatsoper Chorus/Hans-Dieter Pflüger
Dresden Staatskapelle Orchestra/Bernard Haitink
rec. Lukaskirche, Dresden, August 1990. DDD
EMI CLASSICS 3 58618 2 [3 CDs:74:35 + 62:40 + 67:27] 
 

 


Somehow, I never got round to buying a complete recording of Der Rosenkavalier, perhaps because the competing claims of Karajan, Solti and Kleiber seemed impossible to resolve. My heart said Karajan, whose film version was my introduction to this wonderful opera nearly fifty years ago; my brain said Solti, especially when a friend bought that version and extolled its virtues as we listened to it; Kleiber’s echt-Viennese version could claim the right of primogeniture, but in mono only. Solti and Kleiber opened out the small theatrical cuts which Karajan made. If Karajan, should it be the mono or the stereo version? Both were made at the same time, using different sets of microphones, but producer Walter Legge doubted that stereo would ever catch on and lavished more care on the mono. Karajan’s later DGG set was far less well received. To complicate matters further, EMI issued a digital version under Haitink, also dispensing with the theatrical cuts. Unable to decide, I ended up with the excerpts from the Karajan (currently on 5 65571 2) as a stop-gap which seemed destined to be permanent. 

Reviewing the reissued Karajan on this site in December 2001 (5 67605 2 in the UK, 5 67609 2 in the US), Christopher Howell seems to have been in the same quandary : “[Karajan’s] at least is one of the “Great Recordings of the Century”. I don’t know if this in itself adds up to a recommendation ahead of Kleiber, but it does rather sound as if you’ll need both of them.” Karajan is now available in this mid-price reissue or at a lower price in re-mastered mono (3 77357 2). Solti remains at full-price (417 493-2); Kleiber is available at mid-price from Decca (467 111-2) or more cheaply from Naxos (8.111011-3), Documents (221927) and Regis (RRC3007). 

Recently, seeing that EMI had reissued the Haitink at a competitive price, along with a number of other opera sets, I bought it on impulse. (NB: Beware – some retailers are still offering this set for sale as an expensive import.) The reissue comes in a laminated cardboard box, with the individual discs in stiff cardboard sleeves. The cover is in garish pink, as is the label side of each CD, becoming progressively darker from CD1 to CD3. There is a booklet with multi-lingual notes and a detailed synopsis keyed to the track numbers; with around 20 tracks on each CD, the synopsis is easy to follow. The booklet is fairly lavishly illustrated, including a colour reproduction of Roller’s design for Octavian bearing the rose, but there is no libretto. The back cover of the box states that full libretto and translations are available at emiclassics.com but I was unable to locate them at this address. Instead I used the libretto from the Opera Guide site which, unfortunately, does not include a translation. Hoffmannstal’s text is deliberately couched in archaic diction, which even fluent speakers of modern German may find troublesome, but the detailed synopsis in the booklet should help. 

The clarity, warmth and range of the orchestral sound are evident from the start; individual instruments and the voices are clearly located within this overall picture. From Octavian’s opening words, “Wie du warst! wie du bist!” the diction is clear, even where Strauss occasionally sets the musical rhythm at odds with natural speech-rhythm. Kiri te Kanawa and Anne Sofie von Otter make very good immediate impressions from the start; if anything, von Otter makes the stronger impression, but that is as it should be. Octavian’s familiar “du” as against the Marschallin’s formal “Er” right from the start differentiates their attitudes to their relationship. 

This differentiation is most clearly seen at the conclusion of Act 1 (CD1, tracks 17 – end). The whole of this section is included on the Karajan highlights disc, providing an opportunity for comparison. My impression that the conductors adopt similar tempi is borne out by comparing the timings. Haitink employs less legato than Karajan but is prepared to take his time where appropriate; though his tempi are usually slightly brisker than Karajan’s, his overall time for the opera is about the same, allowing for the fact that he includes slightly more music. 

Both Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (for Karajan) and Kiri te Kanawa cope very well in conveying the Marschallin’s range of moods, from the reflective tone of “Da geht er hin” to the panic of having failed to kiss Octavian goodbye and the wistful decision at the end to send the silver rose to Octavian. Te Kanawa’s German sounds almost as idiomatic as Schwarzkopf’s, though she does not quite hit the Viennese a in Schwarzkopf’s pronunciation of “Prater” and I thought I once detected a marginally soft ch at the end of “doch”, hardly a major crime. 

In this section both Octavians, Christa Ludwig (Karajan) and Anne Sofie von Otter (Haitink), seemed to me slightly to out-sing their respective Marschallins; as at the beginning, this is not inappropriate with Octavian once again more often addressing her familiarly as ‘du’ than she him. Finally he yields to her mood and addresses her as ‘Sie’; both Octavians mark this transition well. I have already mentioned the way in which the voices are clearly located within the orchestral sound in the Haitink set, only very occasionally lost in it. On the Karajan they tend more often to disappear within the overall texture, especially in the Marschallin’s quieter moments. Paradoxically, it appears that the voices are more clearly located on the mono version of the Karajan. Even the voices of the agitated servants at the end of the act are more clearly differentiated from each other on the newer recording. 

Barbara Hendricks sings excellently as Sophie; her voice is marginally less girlish than Teresa Stich-Randall’s for Karajan and she occasionally sacrifices the correct vowel sound for the sake of hitting the right, beautiful note; she even seems to substitute a u for a ü in Zunkünftiger where this is not a consideration – Grundheber’s correct pronunciation of the word immediately afterwards makes this more prominent than it would otherwise be – but overall her pronunciation is perfectly acceptable. The intertwining of Hendricks’ and von Otter’s voices as their words and thoughts come closer together after the presentation of the rose in Act 2 (CD2, track 4: “Dahin muss ich zurück … / Ich war ein Bub …”) is marginally less magical than on the Karajan recording, perhaps because in this duet the slightly more forward placement of the voices in the digital recording is less of a virtue. 

Kurt Rydl’s Baron Ochs is suitably bovine; he strikes just the right balance of lyricism and clumsiness in his rendition of Mit mir …, though in general he is not quite a match for Karajan’s Otto Edelmann, whose clearer enunciation reminds us that this ox’s unlikely patronymic is von Lerchenau (lark-meadow). Both adopt ripe Austrian vowels, especially in Act 2, though both are inconsistent in their pronunciation of the -ei- diphthong; von Otter’s servant-girl accent when pretending to be ‘Mariandl’ is also pretty convincing. 

In the closing scene of Act 3 (CD3, tracks 18-20) Haitink and his cast achieve an effect every bit as magical as Karajan, though at a marginally faster tempo; neither sounds too fast or too slow within its own terms and the singing is magical on both recordings. We have long known that matters would end thus and the Marschallin’s “Ja, ja”, in reply to Faninal’s observation that that’s how young people are, brings us back to her “Sei Er nur nicht wie alle Männer sind!” at the end of Act 1 – she hopes that Octavian won’t be like all the others, but she knows he will and that she will be generous enough to approve. Strauss manages to put all this into those two syllables and both te Kanawa and Schwarzkopf get it just right. 

With honours more or less even between these two EMI versions, I am still left with my original quandary: do I now stay with Haitink and dispose of Karajan, or do I trade in both for the complete Karajan version, when I would not want to be without both in whole or in part? In the end my solution was simple: there is enough space in the Haitink box for me to replace the jewel case of the Karajan with a plastic envelope and insert it as an appendix. The jewel case will then serve to replace a broken one and I get to keep one-and-a-third wonderful recordings If you have the space for two complete sets, perhaps the Haitink and the mono Karajan would be your best compromise. If you have room for three, better throw in Kleiber, too. 

Brian Wilson 

 

 

 


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