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Golden Age singers

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Maartje Offers (1892-1944)
Christoph Willibald von GLUCK (1714-1787)

Orfeo ed Euridice – Che faro senza Euridice
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)

La Favorita – O mio Fernando
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)

Il Trovatore – Stride la vampa
Il Trovatore – Condotta ell’ea in ceppi
Don Carlo – O don fatale
Aida – Fu la sorte dell’armi a tuoi funesta
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)

Rienzi – Gerecher Gott!
Götterdämmerung – Seit er von dir geschieden
Ambroise THOMAS (1811-1896)

Mignon – Connais-tu le pays?
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)

Samson et Dalila – Printemps qui commence
Samson et Dalila – Amour!
Samson et Dalila – Mon Coeur s’ouvre à ta voix
Georg Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)

Xerxes – Ombra mai fù
Giuseppe GIORDANI (c1753-1798)

Caro mio ben
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Ave verum
Georges BIZET (1838-1875)

Agnus Dei
Adriaen VALERIUS (c.1575-1625)

Wilt heden nu treden
Maartje Offers (contralto) with
Unidentified Orchestras conducted by A D Van Buuren, Carlo Sabajno, John Barbirolli, George Byng and Malcolm Sargent, LSO/Albert Coates, String Quartet and Herbert Dawson (organ)
Recorded 1923-29
PREISER 89549 [78.31]



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The Dutch contralto Maartje Offers was born in 1892 and began her career as an opera singer. Well received though she was, her reputation remained local until colleagues suggested she pursue her career in Italy at which point much more than succès d’estime beckoned. La Scala booked her for the 1924/25 season (Fricka in Rheingold and Die Walküre) and she was successful at La Fenice in Venice. She sang Mahler (No. 2) with Mengelberg and after her return to the Netherlands Beecham contracted her for his concert tours of Britain and Australia. But despite these prestigious engagements, and despite her recording contract with HMV, her public career gradually wound down and teaching took up an increasing amount of her time. She died in 1944, having given her final performance four years earlier at the Spa Hotel in Schevening.

She made a number of acoustic recordings under the name van der Meer-Offers but her Red Label celebrity (albeit brief) coincided with the Beecham years, when additionally the young Barbirolli accompanied her, and these are the discs by which she is best known. As a nod to England she even recorded one of Elgar’s Sea Pictures. Offers had a good quality contralto, although in his notes the late Leo Riemens characterises it more as a dramatic soprano. It’s a voice capable – not always, but sometimes – of dramatic incisiveness, well supported and resonant. It’s not ideally steady and though she is rhythmically astute and stylish (and stylistically impressive) there are moments of faulty technique. These are primarily ones of faulty breath control, and can be heard on the coupling of Thomas and Saint-Saëns (HMV DB913) where one can hear that the phrasing is, as a result, somewhat compromised. Her sometimes obtrusive vibrato is also a feature of the other Saint-Saëns recordings. Her Ave verum is movingly expressive in the Old School way and in the Gluck one can hear the lineage of descent from her to Ferrier – albeit Offers is pursued by a band unusually, even for 1926, swimming in portamenti. We do hear a couple of acoustic items – Aida and Rienzi – that show her as a good, but not outstanding, musician in this kind of repertoire. Maybe the reputation that has accrued to her as a rather stolid stage animal, was not entirely wrong – though I have to say, on the evidence of these recordings, that it wasn’t entirely right either. For all the minor weaknesses she can still have the power to move and to impress.

The discs are not especially rare but they have been well transferred. Instances of blasting are uncommon (once in the Trovatore extract) and the 1927 La Favorita sounds slightly over-resonant. Otherwise, with the exception of some of her Wagner, Offers has been sidelined in recent years. This is a worthy salute to her memory.

Jonathan Woolf

 



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