does what Guild does often; Wagner from
the Met. There could be a case for thinking
this, yet another slice, saturation
bombing but there is certainly a place
for well directed precision targeting.
If that makes this set a ‘smart bomb’
release well so be it. That said the
usual suspects are here in roles not
exactly unfamiliar and in interpretations
that differ little from expected norms.
Thus we have Melchior and Traubel in
Tristan, and there are three appearances
by Kerstin Thorborg - always welcome
in my book.
But there are points
to note. The Busch-led Lohengrin Act
I was thought not to have survived.
The introduction and commentary derive
from ABC transcriptions, the bulk from
a private recording. Beecham’s Tristan
Act II comes from a South American recording;
it’s not in great shape. The Szell Mastersinger
preserves the only intact Act, the Second,
and was recorded on acetates via the
ABC broadcast. Finally there’s the Beecham-Flagstad
Wesendonck Lieder, recorded on acetates
It’s a lasting regret
that so few of Busch’s operatic performances
have survived. Acts II and III of Lohengrin
are apparently in poor shape but this
one, the first Act, sounds good. I infer
from Richard Caniell’s note about this
performance that his heart lies rather
more in Leinsdorf’s exciting vitesse
rather than with Busch’s Old World nobility;
he prefers a hawk to a swan, maybe.
Granted there was youthful drive in
Leinsdorf’s adrenalin-pumping stage
appearances at the Met but Busch clearly
has a more measured, long-term goal.
He has Torsten Ralf not Melchior but
it’s a suitable opportunity to salute
the former. His Nun sei bedankt
is ardent if controlled and proves eloquent
and powerful in Nun hört.
It’s Janssen however who makes the greatest
impression; his coiled tone, firmly
centred, immovable and powerful, shines
through Dank, König and
indeed he illuminates the Act with real
artistry. Busch unleashes the sinuous
oboe and other winds in Wer hier
generating a fine sense of orchestral
unease and a palpable sense of direction.
The first disc includes some small extracts
from a 1939 Act III presided over by
Seidler-Winkler with Lemnitz and Ralf
and a snippet from Stockholm in 1945
led by Leo Blech with the excellent
Ralf. The former receives a good transfer
and the live latter is in good sound.
The Beecham has unfortunately
survived in poorer shape: recessed and
indistinct voices, a rumbling noise
(turntable rumble?) and acetate damage.
Still, we can listen through to Beecham’s
romantic helmsmanship. He colours and
tints the orchestral passages as adroitly
as Thorborg colours Doch deine Schmach.
His sheer buoyancy survives the
subfusc recording as does his expressive
power and the sheer generosity of his
conducting – and generosity in opera
was not a quality he was known to exhibit,
not to singers at least. Melchior’s
affection is likewise here – what a
shame there’s distortion in the scene
beginning So Stürben wir
and that Cordon is not an adequate replacement
for the mighty Kipnis; mind you listen
to Beecham’s largesse toward the bass
clarinet behind him in Die kein Himmel.
We end this disc with
the Wesendonck Lieder, a performance
given with the RPO in 1952. There are
other extant performances by Flagstad
of course – notably the Knappertsbusch/Vienna
Philharmonic recording of 1957 and the
(original) piano accompanied 1948 recording
with Gerald Moore. The sonics on the
Beecham are somewhat compromised – you
can hear nothing like the miraculous
string choir separation one can on the
Kna – but otherwise quite reasonable.
Flagstad is in excellent voice and she
and Beecham take consistently fleeter
tempi than she was later to do in the
studio in Vienna. Beecham encourages
some swoony portamenti in Der Engel
and there’s real effulgence and radiance
in Stehe still – theirs is a
thoroughly convincing and notable collaboration.
is also rather problematic. The sound
is compressed and distant and there
are some acetate breaks along the way.
Still Caniell has the mot juste
for Janssen and that word is wisdom.
There’s a wealth of nobility and sheer
beauty of tone in Was gibt’s –
breathtakingly good singing – and with
Szell’s horns backing him up he rightly
spins out the line. Steber has rather
a tight, quick vibrato but she conveys
a real onrush of feeling and an impetuous,
almost improvisatory dizziness. List,
well, it can’t be denied, is not in
quite the voice one recalls from other
broadcasts in this series or on disc.
The sense of rhythmic exactitude with
Szell is heard most particularly in
Könnt’s einem Wittwer and
in the way he clips through the broad
humour of Pechner’s Beckmesser. It’s
a shame there’s blasting in some choral
passages (the brawl, mainly) and there’s
also a screechy, untamed quality that
grates. But there are some perfectly
serviceable extracts from Act III Scene
IV included – about a quarter of an
hour’s worth and well worth the hearing,
showing Janssen yet again at the top
of his very, very considerable form.
The booklet is again
a pleasure to look at; Guild admits
the sonic liabilities with candour.
There are no patches or interpolations,
which is how I prefer it. Maybe, yes,
this is a conductor-led purchase and
not everything is an easy listen but
Janssen, well, he’ll live with me for
a long time.