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Engelbert HUMPERDINCK (1854-1921)
Hänsel und Gretela (1890-93)

Elisabeth Grümmer (mezzo) Hansel; Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (soprano) Gretel; Else Schürhoff (mezzo) The Witch; Maria von Ilosvay (mezzo) Mother; Josef Metternich (baritone) Father; Anny Felbermayer (soprano) Sandman, Dew Fairy;
Loughton High School for Girls Choir; Bancroft School Choir
Philharmonia Orchestra/Herbert von Karajan.
Hänsel und Gretel extracts: Suse, liebe Suse, was raschelt im Strohb; Brüderchen, komm tanz’ mit mirb (sung in Italian); Ral la la … heissa Mutter, ich bin da! (Besenbinderlied)c; Ein Männlein steht im Walded; Der kleine Sandmann bin ichd; Abends, will ich schlafen gehnd; Hurr hopp hopp hoppe; Juchhei! Nun ist die Hexe tot (Witch Waltz)f.
bConchita Supervía (mezzo); bInes Maria Ferraris, dElisabeth Schumann, fMeta Seinemeyer (sopranos); fHelen Jung (mezzo); cGerhard Hüsch (baritone); borchestra/A. Albergoni; cefBerlin State Opera Orchestra/cHanns Udo Müller, efFrieder Weissmann; dErnest Lush (piano)
Synopsis included. From aColumbia 33CX1096/97, Fonotipia b120166, cHMV EH1024, dDA1439, efOdeon O-7796. . Rec. aKingsway Hall, London, on June 27th, 29th-30th and July 1st-2nd, 1953, bMilan in 1928, Berlin in cJanuary 1937, efFebruary 15th, 1929, dAbbey Road Studio No. 3, London, on August 28th, 1935.
NAXOS GREAT OPERA RECORDINGS 8.110897/8 [62’45 + 64’36]

 

In the post-war years, in the early 1950s, London became one of the world’s premier recording centres, if not the premier centre. At that time, impresario and producer, Walter Legge attracted the cream of the artistic world to London. This recording is one of his greatest testimonies, everything comes together in perfection. As my colleague Colin Clarke remarks in his excellent review, already on this site, of this Naxos 2 CD refurbishment, the Philharmonia’s playing, under Karajan’s baton, "will make you melt". Legge persuaded Karajan into the EMI recording studios to conduct the Philharmonia Orchestra many times in the 1950s and many very memorable recordings resulted (mostly, if not all, on the Columbia label). One of these, I remember, was an electrifying reading or Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony made round about 1956. I always regret letting that LP out of my collection.

This recording was made in Kingsway Hall, one of London’s premiere and most technically sympathetic recording venues. Elisabeth Grümmer, a former actress, made an ideal Hansel, expressively boyish, with heroics nicely balanced by an appealing vulnerability. And of course there is the superlative voice of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, then in her prime. She, incidentally would marry Walter Legge in the year of this recording, 1953. Her Gretel has youthful purity and girlish gaiety, her enunciation well nigh perfect and delivery silkily impeccable. Their gay (in the old-fashioned sense of that word) delivery of ‘Brüderchen, komm tanz’ mit mir’, the Act I Dance Duet, sends one’s spirits soaring and surely their Act II Evening Prayer would melt the hardest heart. That whole Act II , Scene II is pure enchantment with the angelic-voiced Amy Felbermayer (who also doubles as the Dew Fairy) adding yet further rapture.

I will not bore readers by echoing Colin Clarke’s enthusiasm for the rest of the very worthy cast and of Karajan’s keenly sensitive reading that does not shrink from briefly probing into the darker deeper levels of this fairy tale or eulogising the superb bonus tracks. I will however mention my admiration for the singing of that third Elisabeth - Elisabeth Schumann - here singing the Evening Prayer in recital with another legend, Ernest Lush. There is also the sublime voice of Conchita Supervia in the Dance Duet.

Congratulations to Naxos on such a superb refurbishment of one of the true classics of the gramophone.

Ian Lace

see also review by Colin Clarke



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