Preiser’s tribute to
mezzo-soprano Blanche Thebom is a remarkably
effective one. Impeccably programmed,
Thebom’s strengths are very much to
the fore. Too often referred to as the
other weak link in the Furtwängler
Tristan - Suthaus being the other -
this disc goes a long way to redress
The role of Eboli in
Verdi’s Don Carlo seems custom-made
for Thebom’s strong voice. The first
thing to strike one, though, is the
excellent transfer including non-distracting
ambient hiss! Thebom makes for a seductive
Eboli, her superb technique making the
neighbour-note decorations sound so
easy yet so meaningful. The emotive,
dark-toned ‘O don fatale’ stands in
stark contrast, Thebom’s rock-solid
lower register steely-string and resolute,
yielding at the words ‘O mio regina’.
They just don’t make them like this
any more …
Intensity is once more
the watchword in the Gioconda
excerpt. This track also exemplifies
the level of orchestral detail that
is in evidence in these transfers –
this the first of a sequence of five
from RCA Victor. But the Giaconda
cannot prepare the listener for they
viscerally nocturnal ‘Einsam wachend’
career with the Met in New York began
with Brangaene. She is absolutely hypnotic
here, her tone of the utmost creaminess.
In contrast, ‘Weiche, Wotan Weiche!’
(Rheingold) has Thebom as an Erda that
defies anyone to defy her ... even head-God
Wotan. This is commanding in the extreme,
and mightily impressive.
Speaking of Wotan,
‘So ist es denn aus mit den ewigen Göttern’
is Fricka’s explosion of fury against
him from Act 2 of Walküre.
Thebom’s diction is amazing, and one
really does feel that the culmination
of the first part (‘Die Betrogne lass
auch zertreten!’; ‘Trample on the wife
you have cheated!’) is a real venting
of the spleen. At 2’39 the music cuts
to ‘Dort kommt eine kuhne Maid’ (of
course omitting Brünnhilde and
Wotan’s lines, then on to ‘Dein ew’gen
Gattin heilige Ehre’; ‘Your eternal
wife’s sacred honour …’), as proud a
declamation as one could wish to hear.
Track 7 actually begins
at ‘Höre mit Sinn’ (Waltraute’s
Narration), rather than ‘Seit er von
dir geschieden’, as on the disc back
cover. This is Thebom in more hushed
mode, and she is no less gripping and
no less imposing. Braithwaite moves
the music along nicely without rushing.
and Samson et Dalila might seem
at a massive remove, but actually the
latter proves the perfect contrast to
the former without over-lightening the
atmosphere. Thebom’s high register is
glorious (within mezzo-piano). This
is Saint-Saëns at his most glowing.
Every time I hear this piece - and I
refer to the opera as a whole - I ask
myself why we don’t hear it more often.
Thebom’s ultra-tender ‘Mon coeur s’ouvre
à ta voix’ merely confirms this
Boult conducting Mahler
is itself worthy of seeking out. To
have Thebom as soloist is surely spoiling
us. This 1950 recording, with ‘orchestra’,
unnamed, is notable for the abrupt juxtapositions
of the first song, ‘Wenn mein Schatz
Hochzeit macht’ - the fast opening woodwind
in real contrast to the vocal entry.
Then there are the sunny, outdoor nature
of the second and the simply magical
evocation of the ‘Lindenbaum’, that
archetypally Romantic symbol, in ‘Die
zwei blauen Augen von meinem Schatz.
Only in the third song (‘Ich hab’ ein
glühend Messer’) is there slight
disappointment. More drama is called
for here, surely, than Thebom and Boult
provide yet even here the sighing gestures
- ‘O Weh’ - are superbly done.
Wolf’s genius rounds
off the disc in a selection of seven
lieder, where Thebom is expertly accompanied
by pianist William Hughes. Try his atmospheric
introduction to ‘Verschwiegene Liebe’,
for example. The first Lied, ‘Auf einer
Wanderung’, playful to begin with, then
shrouded in mystery causing Thebom almost
to have recourse to parlando.
Perhaps the most impressive is ‘Schlafendes
Jesukind’ with its dark, slow-moving
piano part and its true pianissimo (how
rare!) and the end.
Well worth acquiring,
then. As I said, they just don’t make
‘em like this any more.