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Engelbert HUMPERDINCK (1854-1921)
Hänsel und Gretel (1890-93, sung in English) [103:24]
Susanne Mentzer (mezzo) Hansel; Heidi Grant Murphy (soprano) Gretel; Judith Forst (mezzo) The Witch; Janice Taylor (mezzo) Mother; Robert Orth (baritone) Father; Anna Christy (soprano) Sandman, Dew Fairy
Milwaukee Children’s Choir and Symphony Orchestra/Andreas Delfs.
Text included.
Rec. Live, Uihlein Hall, The Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 28-30 Nov 2003. DDD
AVIE AV0050 [60:47 + 42:37]


If you want a Hänsel und Gretel sung in English, this may well be the one for you. Andreas Delfs is clearly a conductor of much talent as his conception is ever-sensitive to Humperdinck’s harmonic flow and movement. He clearly enjoys a fine rapport with his excellent soloists. Take the Overture, with its warm strings and atmospheric, fairy-tale forest-invoking quartet of horns, and its later joyous outburst (around six minutes in).

The translation by Tom Hammond is excellent, clear and convincing. Never will you feel linguistically short-changed, although purists may prefer the Karajan on EMI GROC anyway (567 061-2 ). Karajan also has the advantage of the two Elisabeths – Schwarzkopf and Grümmer – as the titular pair, plus he has the Philharmonia Orchestra at his disposal.

Nevertheless, Delfs acquits himself and his cast laudably. His sense of the magical brought back memories of a live performance I reported on at the Barbican in December 2001, under Hickox.

The choice of singers for the roles of Hansel and Gretel is a happy one. Neither voice is over-replete with vibrato. Heidi Grant Murphy is a distinctly States-side Gretel (her accent begins to grate to these ears by around mid-Act 2, where she starts to treat her lines as if singing faux-naif Copland!); Suzanne Metzner is the simply lovely-sounding mezzo Hansel.

Janice Taylor’s vibrato-laden Mother certainly implies more than a touch of the German Hausfrau, a distinctly valid viewpoint. A pity her tuning is not always spot-on. Robert Orth as the father is significantly more impressive.

Some dramatic aspects could have been made with bolder brushstrokes. The Father, allegedly drunk at track 7 (CD1) doesn’t even sound mildly tipsy here, for example. Yet Orth redeems himself shortly afterwards as he slobbers over his wife. Janice Taylor’s rebuttals are just as dramatically effective! His tale of the witch, towards the end of Act 1 (CD1 track 11), marries his sense of determination with the orchestra’s sense of the dramatic to memorable effect.

As the Witch, Judith Forst seems perfectly cast. I make no aspersions as to her real-life character in this statement – I’m sure she’s very nice really. Dramatically, she treads extremely well the fine line between frightening and really being all part of the fun. Anna Christy’s Dew Fairy is rather tremulous; she doubles Dew Fairy and Sandman.

The important point about this set is that the sense of live performance – and a magical, fun one at that – is viscerally captured. The dates given span three days, implying this is a collage of three live performances, yet the overall impression is of an impressively controlled dramatic unity that just happens to be great fun at the same time. Just why don’t we hear more Humperdinck?.

Colin Clarke

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