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
). 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.
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