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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 – 1791)
Die Zauberflöte – Opera in two acts - (1791)
Anton Dermota (Tamino), Irmgard Seefreid (Pamino), Erich Kunz (Papageno), Wilma Lipp (Queen of the Night), Ludwig Weber (Sarasto), George London (Speaker), Sena Jurinac, Freidl Riegler & Else Schurhoff (The three ladies), Emmy Loose (Papagena), Peter Klein (Monostatos).
Singverein der Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Wien
Wiener Philharmoniker/Herbert von Karajan.
recorded in the Brahmsaal,Vienna,2,3,6-9, 13-16, 20-21/12/50 ADD MONO.
EMI CMS5 67071-2 [129.07]


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This classic set of Mozart’s last opera makes a very welcome return to the catalogue. Also, unlike some other issues in this series, the refurbishment of the recording quality has done wonders to the sound. Compared with a previous issue, the tape hiss is still there, albeit reduced somewhat, but what is most noticeable is the clarification of the sound quality, throughout the entire sound spectrum.

If you have heard the similar issue of Figaro, you will know roughly what to expect – the improvement in the sound quality is much the same.

What hasn’t changed however are the musical and production values of this set which always have been of the highest order. This recording was one of Walter Legge’s early collaborations with Karajan and although it caused ructions in the recording industry, it has been "the" version to have right from the time of its first appearance.

It has a dream cast, most of whom were house artists at the Vienna Opera at the time. This means that they had the experience of singing together as a team, albeit without in-depth experience of Karajan’s guidance. This was because of the spat between Furtwängler and the Vienna Opera with Karajan which kept the latter out of Vienna for a number of years (almost permanently while Furtwängler was alive).

Karajan performed Die Zauberflöte with the majority of this cast however outside Vienna - in Berlin, and also in Milan where Karajan was specifically asked for to conduct the Vienna Company.

Walter Legge engaged Karajan to conduct, and assembled, with Karajan’s guidance, the current cast, much to the fury of Furtwangler, and presumably also of the Vienna Opera. The recording sessions went extremely well, and this near perfect performance of Die Zauberflöte was the result.

The playing of the Vienna Philharmonic is miraculous for the day (technically they may do better today) but when this standard of playing is married to the sheer musicality of the performance the recording almost defies criticism. For fans of Mozart who insist on hearing everything, this is the one area some may feel cheated. There is no dialogue, which personally I find a great improvement for home listening, but I am aware that some fans find that they need to hear the dialogue.

Finally, and for some the most important factor in choosing an opera recording – the singers. All of the main parts are sung by singers at the peaks of their relative careers. They have been caught superbly by the wonderful production by Walter Legge.

Irmgard Seefried and Anton Dermota as the two principals sing with great sensitivity and would have been the highlight of the set had not all the other singers been so good. For example Wilma Lipp makes a stunning Queen of the Night, and Erich Kunz sings in most engaging manner as Papageno.

I cannot recommend this issue highly enough. Truly a Great Recording of the Century!


John Phillips

 


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