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Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
Dido and Aeneas (1689)
Kirsten Flagstad (soprano) – Dido
Thomas Hemsley (baritone) - Aeneas
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (soprano) – Belinda, Second Lady, Attendant Spirit
Arda Mandikian (mezzo soprano) – Sorceress
Sheila Rex (soprano) – First Witch
Anna Pollak (soprano) - Second Witch
Eilidh McNab (soprano) - First Lady
David Lloyd (tenor)- Sailor
The Mermaid Singers and Orchestra/Geraint Jones
rec. Abbey Road Studio No.1, London, March 1952
Dido and Aeneas
Thy Hand Belinda…When I Am Laid In Earth [5:02]
Kirsten Flagstad (soprano) – Dido
Philharmonia Orchestra/Warwick Braithwaite
rec. Abbey Road Studio No.1, London, May 1948
Georg Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Serse (1738)
Frondi tenere…Ombra mai fu [4:34]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Warwick Braithwaite
rec. Abbey Road Studio No.1, London, July 1948
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
St Matthew Passion (1729)
Erbarme dich, mein Gott [8:47]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Walter Süsskind
rec. Abbey Road Studio No.1, London, June 1950
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.111264 [77:04]

One thing Walter Legge got completely wrong in this recording was having Schwarzkopf sing the Second Lady. So distinctive is she and so silly is it to have her take Act II’s Oft she visits this lone mountain immediately after she’s just taken Belinda’s Thanks to these lonesome vales that I wonder how he could have listened to it in playback and thought it acceptable. It’s a miscalculation that fortunately doesn’t go much beyond the local but is symptomatic of his casual over-confidence and lack of experience in this kind of repertoire.
Having started in media res with a kicking let’s admire the many good things in this, the third commercial recording of Dido and Aeneas after those by Clarence Raybould in 1936 (not transferred as yet to CD but it should be) and after the war Constant Lambert. Forget whether she was paid for her labours in good English stout – surely not – Flagstad acquits herself with powerful, occasionally over-dramatised, but ultimately revealingly moving strength. She does attack from under the note – you can hear the scooping as early as Ah! Belinda I am pressed but she never loses her regal dignity and her impersonation is on its own terms tremendously impressive. Schwarzkopf can be a rather stentorian Belinda and often sounds too sophisticated – a common enough allegation but it must be faced here.
The Sorceress, Greek mezzo Arda Mandikian, proves to have a nice line in acidic spite though she never over-acts; her Act II Scene I Wayward Sisters, you that fright is first class and her companions take their lead from her - Sheila Rex and Anna Pollak strike just the right note, literally. Thomas Hemsley is a manly Aeneas – he’s a sporty type not like some of the English bank managers who have essayed the role – and I believed in him.
The choral echo effects (Act II Scene II) are well judged and the orchestra plays very well for Geraint Jones. The men’s chorus lets itself down though in Act I’s Fear no more danger to ensue – they are very unfocused and flabby. Fortunately the transfer, from LP I assume, has been very efficiently managed and presents things in pitch-perfect clarity.
There are three extras. Flagstad sings the Lament once more, this time with Warwick Braithwaite in 1948. Frondi tenere…Ombra mai fu was recorded with him as well.  Erbarme dich, mein Gott was done with Walter Süsskind and I assume the Philharmonia’s leader, who I think at that point was Manoug Parikian, no longer co-leading with Max Salpeter. The record labels didn’t say, probably because Legge didn’t like his principals, much less his leader, getting ideas - as he’d have seen it - above their station.
Jonathan Woolf

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