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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    


Letter received from Richard Caniell regarding the Guild Historical series


February 4, 2002

To: Classical MusicWeb

From: Richard Caniell

Dear Sirs,

I read the site's recent critiques with great interest. One point you donít have quite correct is the spelling of my name. Iíd also like to enlarge on your statement:

"where the master were found to be in poor condition, insertions have been made from other performances, usually but not always with the same cast and conductor."

Ordinarily, we do not make insertions unless they are the same singers. No gap is bridged by bringing in a singer different than the one singer who is featured in the recording. In Nozze, the same cast was used for the brief insertions (from 1944); in Parsifal, four words were put in for Flagstad from Flagstadís commercial recording; in Boris, HMV did not record Pimenís Narrative and no recording existed of Manfrini. In that instance, the act could be seamlessly completed by bringing in a different Pimen (Moscona) all of which you characterized quite fairly. This is, however, only one instance supportive of your language, yet the same preamble was put before Siegfried, which had no insertion whatsoever. Indeed, this phrase may not always, does not, apply to our forthcoming releases of Elektra, Tristan, Salome, Pagliacci, Lohengrin nor to thousands of broadcasts which we archive here.

For us, if we have a singer in the broadcast, only lines sung by that singer, drawn from a different broadcast, would be used to bridge a gap or repair a damaged disc. With Manfrini, no recording of him exists. However, if HMV had recorded him in Act I (Monastery Scene), I could not and would not have substituted Moscona to complete Act IV. The gap would have remained.

This has not been the case with commercial recordings. Substitutions, replacements go on in recordings but no information is given to Grandi public. For instance, an anonymous soprano sang the final notes for Maguerita Grandi in the MacBeth Sleepwalking Scene conducted by Beecham issued by HMV/EMI. We learned years later that Schwarzkopf did the same for Flagstad in the Furtwängler Tristan. RCA and the Met put out the 1941 Tristan broadcast in their Historic Series but many portions came from 1940. We did the same kind of thing with Nozze, the difference is that we said so in the booklet. In the final part of the 1937 Covent Garden Tristan (Beecham), Kurvenal and Brangäne are sung by different singers. In the finale to Act II of the 78 rpm set of Die Walküre, Ella Flesch and Alfred Jerger replace Marta Fuchs and Hans Hotter, in a set that offers three conductors.

In every instance cited (and there are many more I could list) there was a substantial reason to do what was done. And while our policy is to set forth the facts in our accompanying booklet, in some of the instances cited, the interpolations (Grandi, Flagstad) were kept secret because that was the only way to induce the singer to make the recording when she felt she didnít have the climactic notes. How can we argue with that? We lose a few moments of fidelity to the voice in order to have the much larger essayal.

In some rare instances certain broadcasts have such shocking, truncations and substantive gaps (as in the Ballo with Björling and Rethberg), that we departed our policy in this exception and pieced in certain orchestral phrases and some words which were sung by a similarly voiced soprano in order to make our restoration available to our music society members. In that instance, our fidelity was to the composer in the musical and dramatic continuity required to make the listening experience possible. The question there was ó did it play as one seamless experience? Whether we would publish this beyond its availability to Music Society members is a question we are now discussing because what was recorded of the broadcast offers such memorable singing.

As you saw we gave the facts in our booklet as to interpolation (same cast) for Nozze and the interpolation of Moscona in the complete essayal of Pimenís music in Act IV of Boris, finally bringing to the public an opportunity to hear the complete fourth act in dramatic and musical continuity. For us this heightened the effect of Chaliapinís art. Keith Hardwick had issued the Chaliapin portions of Act IV for EMI but when he heard Act IV in complete continuity, he was delighted. (He did not supply Moscona to us as one critic surmised.) And so we went ahead.

There are some times when a conflation of sources make a performance hearable which would otherwise never reach the public. If the information about it is given in the booklet, we think weíve met our obligation. There are those who want a broadcast just as it was transmitted. Hence, they prefer the 1936 Die Walküre Act II broadcast Schorr, Flagstad, Melchior, Lehmann / Reiner with the truncated conclusion in which Marcia Davenport interrupts the performance as Wotan begins his words to Hunding. She says, "The curtain is falling," etc. when we know it isnít and can hear Wotan behind her. We think the broadcast policy which required the truncation of the broadcast because some forgettable game show was scheduled to go on is unacceptable (and it happened to the San Francisco broadcast of the 1939 Manon, 1939 Walküre, 1940 Nozze and others). We completed these broadcasts (with the same singers) because we believed fidelity to the actual performance, the composer, the singers, the music, drama and text was far more important than fidelity to idiotic broadcast policies that should have delayed the start of the subsequent program for 5 to 10 minutes in deference to a listening audience that has been involved in the opera broadcast for the previous hour. I would not want to honor this objectionable broadcast policy 66 years later because "thatís what was transmitted."

In short, a variety of premises and motives abound connected with this subject in which reasonable people may disagree. We donít proffer our premise or policy as the only way to approach this subject. (We have never brought in a soprano to sing the high notes for a soprano who couldnít sing them.) Every note sung by the named singer is sung by him or her without improvement; that is the core of the historical record we, here, insist be served. We do believe in interweaving broadcast sources with the same singers if that makes a broadcast complete that would not be otherwise.

Although I say we ordinarily do not bring in other singers to cover a gap, in extraordinary circumstances we have done so. For instance, in the 1937 Rheingold, Bodanzky broke the opera into two acts ending "Act I" just before the music begins for the transformation of the scene into Neibelugen. In doing this he cut some music. Unfortunately, the final disc of the end of Bodanzkyís Act I was lost back in the 1930s, along with the beginning portion of the curtain calls. Only the disc with the ending curtain calls (with the commentator describing the singerís appearance) existed. So I had to bring in a different soprano for Frickaís one line and male voices for Donnerís three words and Frohís four words. My reconstruction meant to return to Wagnerís seamless transitions into the various motifs that accompany Wotan and Loge as they climb down into Nibelheim, serving the musical-dramatic continuity.

This remake has had wide spread distribution through Music Society members going back into the 1980s and has appeared on every tape Iíve since come across traded by collectors. In addition, it is in the Naxos issue of our first restoration. I donít like my work in it because of the state of the source and it has been redone from the alternate transcription so as to be seamless in the re-mastered dream Rheingold. In addition, the nature of the defects in the first transcription transfer used for Naxos required me to interpolate two minutes and 15 seconds of the transition-to-Niebelheim music, in part, what Bodanzky omitted. The re-mastering for Guild replaces only 50 seconds.

This interpolation was a necessary license because the break off was disastrous to the drama and musically truncative. However, even if I had the discs with the Bodanzky break musically complete and the intermission curtains bows unbroken, I still wouldnít have issued it because the commentator and curtain callas mid-opera are an intrusion into a Wagnerian world which the composer specifically meant to sustain. In this instance, one of the very few in our 22 year history, I did have to bring in different anonymous singers for those three short lines and a short part of the orchestral bridge not conducted by Bodanzky. But no one that Iíve ever met who has heard the original, prefers it.

We do not seek to argue with your excellent critiques (or indeed with any critics affirmative or negative views). Rather this lengthy letter seeks to open up the subject to include not only the many performances Guild may issue to which the quoted line does not apply but to the rare occasions when your language does apply and the specific premises which characterize those few instances. Specifically, I mean to make clear that the caveat you state does not apply to Siegfried (nor will it do so to most of the proposed releases planned over the next few years. Indeed, had the paragraph to which I refer not been repeated from Nozze / Boris, I would have had the added pleasure of your further comments about the singers, major and minor, the booklet texts or other aspects upon which you might have enlarged

In any event, I am greatly enjoying the evident knowledge, sensitivity and responsiveness of your critiques and do thank you for your interest.

Sincerely,

Richard Caniell

Richard Caniell

Archivist

c. Jonathan Wearn


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