> Gundula Janowitz : Decca The Singers Series [RJF]: Classical Reviews- January 2002 MusicWeb(UK)






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Gundula JANOWITZ, soprano (1937- )
‘The Singers’ series

Arias by Weber & Wagner, lieder by Schubert, Vier Letzte Lieder (Four Last Songs) R. Strauss
Irwin Gage (piano)
Orchestra of Deutsches Opera, Berlin/Ferdinand Leitner
Berlin Philharmonic/Karajan
Rec. Berlin, Germany, 1967-77
DECCA 467 910-2 [73.02] Midprice

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This disc is one of the first twenty, issued on the Decca label, under the generic title ‘The Singers’. The series, with another thirty in preparation, claims to present the artistry of the greatest singers from the first hundred years of recording. The selection of these first releases was made by the late John Ardoin and is somewhat idiosyncratic in chosen repertoire, despite having access to the recorded annals of DG and Philips as well as Decca. More significantly, these discs are not merely sonic CDs. They are ‘multimedia’ items, being enhanced for those with a CD-ROM drive, to include photo gallery, biographies and texts. If you lack a ROM facility you get a booklet with brief essay and track listing, the latter lacking such basic information as to the operatic character singing the aria! The presentation aims to be different and unique, being a cardboard case within a plastic slip case emblazoned ‘The Singers’

 

Gundula Janowitz made her debut in Vienna in 1960, quickly graduating to the great opera houses, festivals and recording studios, particularly with Karajan on the rostrum. The possessor of a high lyric soprano, a creamy centre and shining silver high notes, she lacked greatness only in respect of vocal and histrionic characterisation. Her artistry is only partly represented here, lacking as it does any Mozart or extracts from choral works, for example The Creation under Karajan, or The Seasons under Böhm, both memorable recordings.

The disc starts with Agathe’s aria Wie nahte and is followed by the cavatina, Und ob die Walke from Der Freischütz; immediately we can hear that ethereal silvery top. She characterises the parts better in the 1973 recording of the opera under Kleiber and prior to which the middle of her voice had richened singing the heavier Mozart roles under Karajan’s tutelage. The Ocean, thy mighty Monster from Oberon (tk 3), finds her stretched at the climax and a little bland, whilst the extracts from Tannhäuser (tk 5) in particular has singing of the utmost beauty – a most expressive and impressive Elisabeth. Tracks 6 & 7 from Lohengrin convey spirituality and innocence but lack a little of the fullness of tone that would have been there later.

It is particularly gratifying to have a return to the catalogue of Janowitz’s outstanding interpretation of Strauss’s Vier letze Lieder (tk 10-13). Caught at the height of her powers (rec. 1973) her interpretation is perhaps only surpassed by Schwartzkopf (recently re-issued on EMI’s Great Recordings of the Century) and Jessye Norman with Masur; both of which include other Strauss songs with orchestra.

Janowitz came to lieder only in the 1970s and the two contrasting Schubert songs included here (tks 8-9) have a depth of expression lacking in her younger self. Irwin Gage is the fully supporting accompanist.

The recording quality reflects DG’s best. My only grumble is that tracks 10-13 are set somewhat louder than the rest. The booklet essay by Richard Wigmore is an education in itself, really excellent.


Robert J Farr


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