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Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Oberon (1826) - abridged [87:29]
Franz Fehringer (tenor) – Oberon; Paula Bauer (contralto) – Puck; Helene Bader (soprano) – Rezia; Hanne Muench (mezzo) – Fatime; Karl Liebl (tenor) – Hüon; Robert Titze (baritone) – Scherasmin; Friederike Sailer (Meermädchen)
South German Radio Chorus and Orchestra/Hans-Müller Kray
rec. 1953 (no other details)
no libretto or synopsis
CABALETTA CBCD002 [57:55 + 28:39]




This set is dedicated Karl Liebl (1915-2007), who died while it was reaching the shops. In view of the fact that it is practically a semi-private act of love, no doubt with limited resources, we will not be too severe about the skimpy presentation. Just a track-list, without timings, cast details and a 5-line bio of Liebl. From 1951 he had a considerable career as a heldentenor, embracing the Metropolitan and the Vienna State Opera but not Bayreuth. We also learn that "from 1967 to the middle of the nineties he teached singing in Wiesbaden". English as she is wrote … Geography as she is wrote, too, for the original phrase was "Von 1967 bis Mitte der Neunziger unterrichtete er in Stuttgart".

I am afraid the word "abridged" above has been added by me. Those interested in Weber rather than Liebl will get quite a shock. With Act timings of 28:39, 29:16, 29:34 the obvious inference is that the conductor was briefed to fit it into three 30-minute broadcasting slots. Act 1 loses Oberon’s aria and Rezia’s "Vision" and the following ensemble begins from Hüon’s entrance. Act 2 loses the Ballet Music and Fatime’s aria. Act 3 loses – devastatingly in view of the purpose of this issue – Hüon’s aria. Aside from this there are all sorts of snips. Just as an example of the type of surgery applied, Puck’s solo plunges straight in without the orchestral introduction and the storm music is shortened. Irritatingly, Kray gives the Act III March complete, repeats and all. Without stage action it’s not the most inspired part of the score and might have been sacrificed in favour of at least a lick and a promise of Hüon’s aria. The actual words sung are at times quite different from those in the Peters Edition I was following. However, since the original text was in English I suppose there is no need to stick rigidly to one particular translation if a better one can be found or made. There is no dialogue.

Still, I daresay it’s the only opportunity we have to hear Karl Liebl sing this music, and for the most part he does so beautifully. He has an easy production with an attractive, sweet timbre. There is just a suspicion of slightly pinched tone on loud high notes. But Weber cruelly demands, in the first aria, Mozartian agility combined with romantic weight. An ideal performance would be almost impossible and this gets pretty near. In his Act II Prayer he provides exquisite shading and nuance.

In this he shows up the shortcomings of the rest of the cast. Only Paula Bauer, as Puck, is actually unattractive, but nuance and expression does not go beyond generalized musicality. Helene Bader’s somewhat soubrettish tones were not encouraging at first but she actually manages "Ozean! Du Ungeheuer" – "Ocean, though mighty monster" to most of us – pretty effectively and responds warmly to her Act III Cavatina. But without the sort of refined artistry we heard from Liebl in Hüon’s Prayer.

Hans-Müller Kray is lively or expressive as required and the recording, which seems to derive from acetates, is reasonable for the date though with distortion at climaxes.

The discography of "Oberon" only really began in the 1970s with the celebrated DG version under Kubelík and a notable cast including Birgit Nilsson. Only Weberians seeking documentation of the earlier history of this once maligned and ill-treated work need bother with the Cabaletta issue. Unless, of course, they are also Liebl fans too.

I made my comparisons with another performance from the 1950s, recorded in Milan in 1957 under Vittorio Gui. This seems to be available from Myto, though there seems some confusion as to whether theirs is not a performance from Trieste given the previous year with an identical cast. What I have is an off-the-air tape so I can’t speak for the quality of the Myto issue. The performance would be worth an "official" release, for Anita Cerquetti, Mirto Picchi, Petre Monteanu, Miriam Pirazzini and Piero De Palma are the sort of names that have opera buffs pricking up their ears. I wouldn’t put Petre Monteanu’s Hüon above Liebl’s, good though he is, but Gui adds almost a minute to the "Prayer". He unfolds the music with the subtlety of timing and sheer penetration into the essence of the music that only a great conductor can provide. It would have been interesting to hear Liebl work with a maestro of this stature. Everyone else contributes splendidly and far outshines their counterparts under Kray. Cerquetti’s technique encompasses all the demands of "Ocean" and she has the refinement of nuance in her Cavatina – aided and abetted by Gui – which is heard on the other set only from Liebl. Gui is not invariably slower – he can be remarkably deft and light in the fairies’ music and unleashes terrific power in the storm. Kray sounds very plain in comparison. The performance is sung in Italian, but then German is the "wrong" language too, really. The problem of the dialogue is solved by having a narrator. A neat enough solution if you know Italian, probably tiresome if you don’t. Gui makes a few minor cuts but basically the score is complete. The Act III aria for Hüon in the Peters Edition is substituted by a jolly Rondo. I don’t know which of the two was Weber’s final choice. In spite of obvious drawbacks I can think of a number of reasons why Weberians might like to hear a carefully restored transfer of this performance.

As for the set under review, well, as a tribute to Liebl it serves its purpose. With fifty minutes to spare on the second CD, though, it’s a pity the various German radio archives were not trawled for a bit more material, which surely must exist.

Christopher Howell

footnote

Supplied by Stephen Sutton (Divine Art)

AS the reviewer says that the CD has very little info, I can tell you that in the USA, it was originally issued on Opera Society in 1953, 2 10” LPs, catalogue number OP 10/ I am not aware of the UK/European original details.

I can’t recall the cover having much else except a potted synopsis, and the recording was not brilliant even for its time..

 



 


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