This performance has
previously been available on ‘Music
and Arts’ and ‘Naxos Historical’ labels,
the latter deriving from Immortal Performance
Recorded Music Society sources, as does
this Guild issue. In his ‘Recording
Notes’ (p.22 of the booklet) restorer
Richard Caniell mentions that he has
obtained ‘a source that out-classed
all other versions (including our previous
master) for sonic size and silent surfaces.
This discovery justified new restoration
work and the Guild release on CD’.
Collectors will be
aware of Mr Caniell’s philosophy for
these Guild issues. It involves no filtering,
compression, limiting or any other digital
intervention. I have not, however, been
in a position to carry out a direct
comparison with the issues on the labels
referred to. I must therefore limit
myself to commenting that this 2003
restoration has good clarity, silent
surfaces and a wider dynamic than many
recordings derived from Met broadcasts
of that period. The solo voices and
chorus are particularly well caught
in terms of tone and body.
The popularity of this
performance among collectors is owed
to the presence of Kirsten Flagstad
as Leonore and Bruno Walter on the podium.
Three broadcasts of Flagstad’s portrayal
are available, the earliest dating from
1936 which is in poor sound. However,
the 1938 New Year’s Eve performance
is sonically acceptable and is felt
by some to better represent Flagstad’s
portrayal than this 1941 version; a
view Caniell disputes (p.7). Purists
rule out the 1938 performance because
the conductor, Bodansky, substituted
his own recitatives for the spoken dialogue,
as had Berlioz and Balfe a century earlier.
The practice died with Bodansky.
Leonore was reputed
to be one of Kirsten Flagstad’s favourites.
Her silvery tone and infinite capacity
for vocal weight throughout the register,
without tonal deterioration, is ideal
for a role that has also drawn mezzos
with a good top. In this she joins Christa
Ludwig for Klemperer (EMI
‘GROC’) and Jessye Norman for Haitink
(Philips), the latter version marred
by Reiner Goldberg’s poor rendering
of Florestan. Despite her good top,
Flagstad’s ‘Abscheulicher’, an aria
which can tax mezzos, is not as secure
at its climax (CD 1, tr.18, 7:22) as
I would have expected. Nevertheless
the audience show their appreciation.
The Belgian tenor René Maison
was, to the chagrin of Melchior enthusiasts,
Flagstad’s regular partner at the Met.
More a dramatic tenor than a ‘heldentenor’,
his weight of voice should have been
ideal for the role of Florestan. However,
here he has moments of raw and throaty
tone and in his aria he is far too frenetic
(CD2 tr.11). As the gaoler Rocco, Alexander
Kipnis is too authoritative in his dialogue
(CD1 tr.3). This spills over into the
following quartet ‘Mir ist so wunderbar’
(tr. 4) which makes his jolly, rather
than persuasive, ‘Hat man nicht’ (tr.
9) sound rather incongruous. However,
the stable tone and good diction he
brings to the role are welcome. The
Pizarro of Julius Huehn is steady and
suitably threatening although as with
his Friedrich on Guild’s recent
issue of the 1940 broadcast ‘Lohengrin’
I find his voice lacks sap. As the young
suitor Jaquino, Karl Laufkoetter is
adequate though without much grace in
his tone. The Marzelline of Marita Farell
(a role she also assumed in the 1938
performance) is too full-toned for my
ideal. I much prefer a lighter and more
flexible voice for what we understand
is a young girl.
As for Bruno Walter,
his reading is dramatic but at times
over-driven and is in no way more distinguished
than Bodansky, although I like his shaping
of the Leonore No. 3 (CD2 tr.9). There
are minor cuts in the music and dialogue.
All in all I do not find the distinction
in Kirsten Flagstad’s performance is
such as to justify the reputation of
this performance to many collectors.
However, for those who take a contrary
view and are drawn to her voice and
Walter’s interpretation, the recording
here is one of the finest I have heard
from this period. The booklet has good
essays by Richard Caniell including
Flagstad’s performances as Leonore at
the Met, and a track-related synopsis.
Robert J Farr