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Eugen D'ALBERT (1864-1932)
Die Toten Augen (1912-13)
Drama in one act with a prelude and a postlude by Hanns Heinz Ewers after Marc Henry
Dagmar Schellenberger (sop) - Myrtocle, wife of Arcesius
Hartmut Welker (bar) - Arcesius, Roman ambassador in Jerusalem
Norbert Orth (ten) - Galba, a Roman captain, friend of Arcesius
Margaret Chalker (sop) - Arsinoe, Myrtocle's slave woman
Anne Gjevang (alto) - Maria von Magdala
Eberhard Büchner (ten) - Ktesiphar, an Egyptian miracle healer
Philharmonischer Chor Dresden
Dresdner Philharmoniker/Ralf Weikert
rec. 1-2 Mar 1997, Konzertante Opernaufführung, Dresden Kulturpalast
CPO 999 692-2 [2CDs: 63.50+44.02]

CPO have made something of a speciality of hyper-romantic operas. I thought it was time we looked at some of these, many of which have been 'sleepers' in the catalogue for years.

D'Albert was born in Scotland but had little time for the place. He studied in London and then at Weimar with Liszt. Although there are a brace each of symphonies and piano concertos (the latter on Hyperion) and a cello concerto (on Koch International) his 'fame' rests on his operas. More accurately that refers to Tiefland, a worldwide success in 1903 and, to a slightly lesser extent, to the present opera.

D'Albert wrote twenty operas (listed below) though none fulfilled the composer's fervent hope of equalling or exceeding Tiefland. Die Toten Augen was premiered at the Dresden Court Opera on 5 March 1916 conducted by no less than Fritz Reiner. It seems that critical reaction was discouraging but the public lapped up this lavishly orchestrated and luxuriantly themed music. It held its place in the opera seasons for some twenty years until the arrival of Nazis resulted in the work, with its Jewish setting, being proscribed. After 1945 it made a return appearing in Vienna (1950), Klagenfurt (1954), Antwerp (1955), Nuremberg (1964) and Bern (1980).

The plot is ornate. The setting: Jerusalem. The blind Myrtocle is the wife of Arcesius, the deformed Roman ambassador. She imagines Arcesius handsome and irresistible. When given her sight by Jesus she mistakes Galba for her husband and they make love. Arcesius, hiding because he realises Myrtocle will soon know his ugliness, sees it all. Arcesius kills Galba. Myrtocle cursed by her sight yearns for her blindness and turning to the sun gazes at it unblinkingly and blinded again. Arcesius and Myrtocle are seen happily re-entering their house - reconciled in her restored blindness.

While the commentary refers to the influence of Wagner I hear little of that. There is far more of Strauss, Puccini and Korngold and pretty wonderful it is too although the flame sometimes flickers after the first twenty minutes. This confection is laced with the impressionism of Debussy's Faune and La Mer as well as Ravel's Daphnis. The crashingly crowned climax of the Prelude is superbly done as is the plunging climactic writing of Myrtocle's Geliebter aria (CD2 tr.4, 1.32). The largely self-taught d'Albert also uses an extremely beguiling and sinuous flute theme. Delius must presumably have heard this and later used something similar in the music for the Fountain in his score for Flecker's Hassan in 1925. The vocal line usually has a Puccinian magnificence perhaps diluted by an easier lyrical flow from operetta (typically Lehár). There is also some macabrely humorous writing depicting the false healer Ktesiphar. While the orchestral prelude is superbly judged other moments creak. For instance the high calorie orchestral introduction to Myrtocle's aria 'Ein Spiegel' in which she can at last admire her own beauty now that the Prophet has restored her sight is not out of the top drawer. The cast is uniformly strong with a specially vibrant contribution from Schellenburger. She is extremely affecting in the tender yet masochist self-sacrifice of the blinding (CD2 tr.8) when the Korngold opulence of the writing rises to another towering and tortured peak.

The admirable booklet is in German, English and French. The libretto is given in German and English side by side.

I hope that this will not be the last time that Weikert and CPO will record D'Albert. There are plenty of other operas in the d’Albert canon.

This is certainly for you if you are a devotee of glorious verismo soused in Hollywood radiance. It may have a few less than wonderful moments but for the most part you will want to luxuriate in this fine score. Do make sure you hear it if you already enjoy Korngold's Violanta, Die Kathrin or Tote Stadt or Zemlinsky's Die Gezeichneten and Schrecker's Die Ferne Klang.

Rob Barnett


d'ALBERT, Eugen (Eugène Francis Charles) [Glasgow 10.4.1864 - Riga, Latvia 3.3.1932]

Pianist. Son of dance composer Charles d'Albert [25.2.1809-26.5.1886]. Though born in Glasgow (9, Newton Tce.) soon taken by parents to live in Newcastle-on-Tyne. A precocious child he began studies with his father then at the National School of Music, London (later became RCM) studying w. Ernst Pauer (piano), Stainer, Prout and Sullivan (theory). Later following Mendelssohn Scholarship w. Hans Richter, Vienna and Franz Liszt, Weimar. His virtuoso pianism provoked comparison with Mozart and Mendelssohn. His keyboard style was instinct with a sense of both poetry and structure and was much admired by Hans von Bülow. Liszt dubbed him "the young Tausig". His abilities as an executant remained largely undimmed despite his later conversion as an almost exclusively operatic composer. Premiered Richard Strauss's Burleske for piano and orchestra on 21.6.1890 at Eisenach with the composer conducting. Briefly court conductor at Weimar, 1895. Succeeded Joseph Joachim as Director Hochschule fur Musik, Berlin, 1907. During Great War renounced his British citizenship and took German nationality and a German name openly declaring his Teutonic convictions and condemning English culture and his British teachers. His strident criticism won him a degree of revulsion and enmity which played its part in the almost total eclipse of his music. The only real survivor is the opera Tiefland which is occasionally revived and has been recorded. Married six times, including to pianist Teresa Carreno, 1892-5, singer Hermine Finck, 1895-1910, and Ida Theumann, 1910-12. Lived in Lucerne. He made some recordings including one notable electric recording of the first movement of Beethoven's Emperor Concerto, one for the Polydor company of Arnold Bax's Mediterranean, and another in which he conducted extracts from his own Tiefland with the tenor Gotthelf Pistor.

Orch: Overtures: Esther and Hyperion ; Symphony in F major; 2 Piano Concertos: B minor Op. 2 [d'Albert and Richter, 24.10.1881] and E major Op. 12; Cello Concerto in C Op. 20 (* 1879 Frankfurt 1880, Hugo Becker, cello, Prom 1904); Aschenputtel Suite in 5 movements (1924, Proms 1925).

Stage: The Ruby [Carlsruhe, 12.10.1893]; Ghismond [Dresden, 28.11.1895]; Gernot [Mannheim, 11.4.1897]; The Departure, or Die Abreise [one act comedy Frankfurt-am-Main, 20.10.1898]; Cain [Berlin, 17.2.1900]; The Improviser [Berlin, 20.2.1902]; Tiefland [most popular work, Prague, 15.11.1903]; Flauto Solo [musical comedy Prague, 12.11.1905]; Tragaldabas [Hamburg, 3.12.1907]; Izeyl [Hamburg, 6.11.1909]; The Proffered Wife [Vienna, 6.2.1912]; Love's Chains [Dresden, 12.11.1912]; Dead Eyes [Dresden 5.3.1916]; The Bull of Oliveira [Leipzig, 10.3.1918]; The Wedding during the Revolution [Leipzig, 26.10.1919]; Scirocco [Darmstadt, 18.5.1921]; Mareike von Nymwegen [Hamburg, 31.10.1923]; Der Golem [Frankfurt, 14.11.1926]; Die Schwarze Orchidee [Leipzig, 1.12.1928]; Die Witwe von Ephesus; Mister Wu [completed by Leo Blech, Dresden, 29.9.1932].

Chamber: 2 String Quartets: A minor Op. 8 and E flat major Op. 11

Vocal: Der Mensch und das Leben, Op. 14, chorus in 6 parts and orch; many songs;

Keyboard: for piano: Suite Op. 1, 5 movements; Pieces Opp. 5 and 16 (Waltz, Scherzo, Intermezzo and Ballade); Sonata F sharp minor Op. 10; cadenza Beethoven G major Piano Concerto, edited other music.

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