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Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Der Rosenkavalier - opera in three acts
The Feldmarschallin, Princess Werdenberg - Maria Reining (soprano)
Baron Ochs auf Lerchenau - Kurt Boehme (baritone)
Octavian - Lisa della Casa (soprano)
Herr von Faninal – Alfred Poell (baritone)
Sophie, his daughter - Hilde Gueden (soprano)
Marianne, Sophie’s duenna – Judith Hellwig (soprano)
Valzacchi, an intriguer – Laszlo Szemere (tenor)
Annina, his partner – Sieglinde Wagner (contralto)
The Major-Domo to the Feldmarschallin –Georg Müller (tenor)
An Attorney – Oscar Czerwenka (bass)
An Italian Singer – Karl Terkal (tenor)
Police Inspector – Franz Bierbach (bass)
Innkeeper and Faninal’s Major-Domo – August Jaresch (tenor)
Chorus of the Vienna State Opera
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Clemens Krauss
Recorded live at the Salzburg Festival, 1953

Trio to the end of Act III - with

Viorica Ursuleac
Tiana Lemnitz
Erna Berger
Georg Hann
Berlin State Opera Orchestra/Clemens Krauss
Recorded 1936 on 78s
GUILD HISTORICAL GHCD 2293/95 [3 CDs: 68.07 + 57.01 + 74.18]


Here’s something special for admirers of Clemens Krauss – the first ever release of this 1953 Salzburg Rosenkavalier. Preiser has released a Krauss 1942 Bavarian broadcast with his wife, Viorica Ursuleac (who appears in Guild’s 1936 78 excerpts which are splendid, though there are splices from other performances to ensure continuity) and Georgine von Milinkovic et al. There are also some Vienna State Opera live extracts dating from the same period.

Firstly a word about recording sonics and quality. The copy was made by a private collector and Guild notes that there was shifting equalization, some breaks and that it enshrined a metallic quality with the voice of the Ochs, Kurt Boehme. It also notes, correctly, that the broadcast has an airless quality. I would add this; the microphones seem to have been placed more over the pit than the stage so that the flaring horns, for example, in the orchestral introduction to Act I leap out dramatically. The sound is certainly recessive and cramped; percussion is muffled, internal sectional balance is occasionally problematic. There are some blips as well – they sound like fractionally missing moments where sides were changed. I should also add – this sounds like a litany of problems, which isn’t really the case but they should be noted – that the sound splinters and fractures somewhat in the Second Act (especially Mord! Mord! – which is uncomfortable). One can also hear some radio interference in this section of the Act, which is temporarily off-putting. At 1.17 into Er muss mich pardioneren (Act II, track 12) there is the kind of "edit" I referred to earlier and this happens a few times.

All right, this doesn’t sound good. But there is good news; apart from the constriction of sound the problems are essentially survivable. Those with a serious interest in historic performance and in the musicianship of Strauss’s favourite Rosenkavalier conductor will want to hear it and this notwithstanding the fact that a number of the principals have also left behind recordings of their roles in other sets. Reining famously recorded it for Kleiber in 1955 (Decca) but also for Szell, live in 1949 – now on Andante. Gueden, for instance, was also in that Kleiber cast.

The greatest and most animating feature of this remains Clemens Krauss. He encourages a sense of seamless animation, with scenes developing a momentum that glides naturally into subsequent ones. There’s no sense of the static or tableau about his leadership. Rhythms are sharply etched and wittily pointed. Wind principals are given their head and plaudits in particular go to the bassoonist and clarinettist. In the Act II introduction we hear some succulent echt-Viennese string portamenti and a veritable surge of adrenalin. I’ve seldom heard bettered the masterly way he handles the end of In dieser feierlichen Stunde – where he judges the theatrical temperature with the most acute perception. Listen as well to the sheer naturalness of his sprung rhythm in the Octavian-Sophie exchange Mit ihren Augen voller Tränen. Even here though, things aren’t perfect, nor would one expect them to be. The Act III trio is a mite untidy, though it is fleetly taken and beautifully articulate, and there is throughout, though more so in the last two Acts, a slight drop in adrenalin. This is relative though; Krauss is still a formidable guide, not as rhythmically incisive as Szell but with a greater sense of rubato and stage design – and I think, in the end, definably more of a sense of the humanity of the score.

I agree with annotator London Green that Reining is heard at something like her Straussian best in the 1949 Szell broadcast but that Krauss’s conducting has a flexibility that elevates her assumption still further. Hers is a less weighty voice than usual and hers remains throughout a Marschallin who seeks the light, not the depths, of the role. Her voice and impersonation are entirely consonant in this. Lisa della Casa is likewise a soprano and this lightening of the voices in their scenes together gives them a sense of vocal equality. She is technically eloquent and tonally fresh and conveys in large measure the verve and increasing maturity of Octavian. Sophie is Hilde Gueden, flighty, quick, and Ochs is Boehme at his buffo best but with a slight taste of vinegar in the voice. He does overdo the ruffian elements rather too much but it’s a credible portrait.

In conclusion this is a powerful souvenir of Krauss’s credentials as a Straussian. Compromised though it is by sonic limitations it will stand as an ancillary purchase. You will need a studio recording or two but for sheer theatrical frisson this Salzburg performance should not be overlooked, even though the wartime broadcast has distinctive merits of its own.

Jonathan Woolf


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