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Four Austrian Sopranos of the Past
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

The Marriage of Figaro – Ihr, die Triebe des Herzens kennt 1
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)

Faust – Ha, welch Glück, mich zu she’n 1
Georges BIZET (1838-1875)

Carmen – Ich sprach, dass ich furchtlos mich fühle 1
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)

Madame Butterfly – Eines Tages she’n wir 1
Turandot – Prinzessin, die Liebe 1
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

The Marriage of Figaro – Ich weiss nicht was ich tue 2
Ruggero LEONCAVALLO (1857-1919)

Bajazzo – Wie die Vöglein schweben 2
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)

La bohème – Man nennt mich Mimi 2
La bohème – Will ich allein 2
Turandot – Höre mich an, Herr 2
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

The Marriage of Figaro – Und Susanna kommt nicht 3
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)

Die Walküre – Der Männer Sippe sass hier im Saal 3
Lohengrin – Einsam in trüben Tagen 3
Lohengrin – Euch Lüften, die mein Klagen 3
Tannhäuser – Dich, teure Halle 4
Tannhäuser – Allmächt’ge Jungfrau, hör’ mein Flehen 4
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)

Der Freischütz – Wie nahte mir der Schlummer 4
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)

Der Rosenkavalier – Da geht er hin 4
Berta Kiurina (1882-1933) (soprano) 1
Luise Helletsgruber (1901-1967) (soprano) 2
Maria Reining (1903-1991) (soprano) 3
Hilde Konetzni (1905-1980) (soprano) 4
Unidentified accompaniments
Recorded 1927-44
PREISER 89973 [77.42]
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All four of these sopranos were born within the twenty-one year period that enabled the earliest born, Kiurina, to have sung under Mahler and the youngest, Konetzni, to have sung at the State Opera as late as 1973. They all rose to prominence when Vienna still boasted stellar native casts and all left behind evidence of their musicianship – all but a couple here date from a twelve year period from 1927-39.

Berta Kiurina, born in Linz in 1905, was appointed by Mahler to the Vienna Company where she stayed fully a quarter of a century. A famed Mozartian she also took on coloratura roles, as well as Strauss and Korngold, and gave the first Viennese performance of Turandot (as Liù) in 1926. She must have made quite an impression because she was asked to record this disc from it the following year. The discs show that she was equally fine in both the lyric and the more florid repertoires and in that Turandot extract she reveals – despite approaching fifty – undiminished artistry of expression. The voice itself is neither particularly penetrating nor large but it is exactingly focused and beautiful – the half tones of Turandot illuminate her seamless legato. True, there are a few technical blemishes along the way but she was an important singer and caught here in good quality Odeons, Parlophons and Ultraphons just in time – she died in 1933, at fifty-one.

Luise Helletsgruber is best known for her Glyndebourne association and her contribution to three Mozart opera recordings made there under Fritz Busch. It’s apt she’s here because she took over from Kiurina – not least as Liù – and sang at the Salzburg Festival every year for a decade. A prominent member of the Viennese operatic fraternity she won the admiration of a host of distinguished conductors, remaining with the company for twenty years. She became a fine teacher only to die in a car accident at the age of sixty-six. In the 1929 extract from the Marriage of Figaro she has something of Lotte Lehmann about her – very attractive and expressive singing, mediated by excellent breath control, a firm line, and clean attack. She can be delicate as well (as in her Mimi discs) and when it comes to her Turandot she proves a worthy successor to the noble Kiurina. The tempo is relatively slow but the lyrical impulse is sustained and the singing is generous and also powerfully engaging - exciting and technically splendid.

The third of the trio, born in 1903, is Maria Reining. She began at the Volksoper but after the exodus of Lotte Lehmann (to America) and Viorica Ursuleac (to Berlin) took on an increasing number of roles at the State Opera. Incidentally Preiser misspell Reining’s name in a couple of places and give both 1902 and 1903 as her year of birth (it was 1903). She was best known as a Strauss heroine though she was widely admired in Mozart and in Wagner. We don’t get her Strauss here, which is a disappointment though it’s true that the surviving evidence is not all to her favour in this repertoire. Instead her Walküre is really fine and her Lohengrin no less so, proving her to have been a leading Wagnerian of her time.

The last of the quartet is Hilde Konetzni who found her way to Vienna via provincial stints in smaller houses and in the German Theatre in Prague (by no means a smaller house). Her arrival in 1936 inaugurated almost 40 years of service to the State Opera Company. Her range extended beyond Mozart and Rosenkavalier (one of her best known roles) to include the Bartered Bride and Russian roles. Partly this was a result of lyrico-dramatic temperament but part of it might have had something to do with her Czech roots. Though she was Viennese born she was, like many ostensible natives from that city, incorrigibly plural. Luckily her Bartered Bride with Tauber and Beecham and sung in German has survived and has been released several times. Luckily in the Weber she has Schmidt-Isserstedt conducting for her – and excellently – and she proves an excellent Weber singer as indeed she does in Rosenkavalier. This 1944 Telefunken is one of the finest examples of the Strauss on record. The nature of her voice production – and its concomitant softness and evenness - can be heard in Tannhäuser, recorded in 1937.

With good notes from Clemens Höslinger and unproblematic transfers this quartet of eminent Viennese sopranos can be genuinely welcomed. Inevitably it offers only a partial look at their careers and repertoires but it demonstrates their great strengths and the overlaps and reflections that stalked the Vienna Opera for well over half a century.

Jonathan Woolf


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