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Eugen D'ALBERT Tiefland   Eva Marton; René Kollo; Bernd Weikl; Kurt Moll. Münchner Rundfunkorchester conducted by Marek Janowski ARTS 2CD 47501-2 (134:46) superbudget price




My curiosity about this opera was fired when I noticed a number of references to it scattered through the life of Erich Wolfgang Korngold in Brendan Carroll's biography, The Last Prodigy. When Korngold was only nine years old he composed a cantata for solo singers, chorus and piano entitled Gold, the opening of which showed the influence of Tiefland. Then, Korngold resigned his professorship at the State Academy in Vienna, in 1931, because his perfectionism would not allow him to tolerate a particularly embarrassingly poor orchestral rehearsal of Tiefland by the institution's indolent pupils. Finally we learn that Hollywood exile, Rudolf Lothar, the librettist of d'Albert's Tiefland contributed to the story for Korngold's Die stumme Serenade (The Silent Serenade) first performed in March 1951. So, thinking that whatever influenced the opulent Romantic style of Korngold was worth pursuing and having been impressed with D'Albert's Piano and Cello Concertos, I invested in this super-budget Arts release. I was not disappointed.

Eugen D'Albert was born in Glasgow in 1864. He bore a French name of Italian origin, was German by adoption and died a Swiss citizen in 1932 in Riga! His parents moved south to Newcastle when he was very young and he was drilled as a public pianist at a very early age. He hated England and after several years in London made his way to Vienna at the age of 17. He composed 22 operas taking in every "problem" story ever tackled in opera from Wagner to Krenek's "Johnny spiel auf". Tiefland (1903), in the Italian 'verismo' style, shows influences of Wagner and Richard Strauss and there is much use of Viennese waltz forms. D'Albert's orchestration is sumptuous. It is set in Spain; partly on an isolated mountain slope in the Pyrenees and partly in a lowland valley in Catalonia. D'Albert always keen to soak up local colour and atmosphere, went on a walking tour of the region and had a musical scholar obtain Spanish dance tunes and shepherd's call s for him. For D'Albert, authenticity was an integral part of naturalism.

The drawback with this 2 CD set is that although there is a substantial enough booklet with good notes in English, French and German, the libretto is only in German so unless the listener is fluent in that language, it is impossible to appreciate all of D'Albert's subtleties and nuances. Briefly, the story concerns a rather naive and lonely young shepherd, Pedro who is persuaded by landowner, Sebastiano to descend from his mountain home to the plains below and to marry the lovely Marta.

Marta is Sebastiano's young ward and mistress. Sebastiano has an ulterior motive because he wants to make a good profitable marriage to bolster his dwindling assets - but he also wants to keep Marta as his mistress. At first Marta is repulsed by the guileless Pedro who she thinks is a rogue but when she realises that he is innocent and really loves her, she falls in love with him when she discovers Sebastiano's deception. Pedro and Marta confront Sebastiano with their love but he will not let Marta go particularly as he knows that he has now lost everything because his intended bride has also been told of his duplicity. In the ensuing fight between Pedro and Sebastiano, Sebastiano is killed and Pedro and Marta flee for the purer atmosphere of the mountains.

The cast is impressive in this 1983 recording. René Kollo is as magnificent as he was as Walther in the 1971 Karajan recording of the Die Meistersinger as he ranges from incredulous innocent, to ardent lover, to vicious avenger. Bernd Weikl is also excellent as Sebastiano, the scheming villain with a heart. Eva Marton also impresses as Marta but curiously the important role of Nuri is not credited in the booklet's cast list (although more minor characters are!). The best material is given to the men. Highlights include: the evocative orchestral opening vividly portraying life in the high mountains; the Act I scene when the village maidens make fun of what they perceive as the boorish naivety of Pedro and Marta's anxiety about being separated from Sebastiano against lively Richard Strauss/Viennese-like material followed by Sebastiano's Ochs-like reassuring serenading of Marta to similar material found in Der Rosenkavalier but with more passion and irony (the orchestral accompaniment at the end of this scene is positively ravishing). Act II highlights include Pedro's big aria the wolf song in which he tells Marta of the wolf he had killed on the mountains to protect his sheep (serving as an allegory for the situation between Marta, Sebastiano [the human wolf] and himself); this is followed by the glorious love duet between Marta and Pedro as Marta realises the truth of the situation.

Janowski leads his his choir, orchestra and soloists in a passionate and moving performance of this much negelected opera - little wonder that it had such an effect on Korngold! At such a bargain price this is an operatic set that everyone who loves full blooded late Romantic music should snap up without hesitation.


Ian Lace

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Ian Lace

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