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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



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Engelbert HUMPERDINCK (1854-1921)
Hänsel und Gretel [106’40"]
Hänsel: Elisabeth Grümmer (soprano)
Gretel: Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (soprano)
Peter: Josef Metternich (baritone)
Getrud: Maria von Ilosvay (soprano)
The Witch: Else Schürhoff (contralto)
The Sandman: Amy Felbermayer (soprano)
The Dew Fairy: Amy Felbermayer (soprano)
Loughton High School for Girls Choir; Bancroft’s School Choir
Philharmonia Orchestra/Herbert von Karajan
Recorded 27, 29, 30 June, 1, 2 July, 1953, Kingsway Hall, London
Appendix: Highlights from Hänsel und Gretel. Historical Recordings 1928-1937
Suse, liebe Suse, was raschelt im Stroh [3’14"]
Brüderchen, komm tanz’ mit mir (Dance Duet) [3’48"]
Both sung in Italian
Conchita Supervia (mezzo); Ines Maria Ferraris (soprano)
Orchestra/A. Albergoni.
Recorded in 1928 in Milan
Ral la la la….heissa Mutter, ich bin da! (Besenbinderlied) [4’27"]
Gerhard Hüsch (baritone) with unidentified soprano.
Berlin State Opera Orchestra/Hanns Udo Müller
Recorded January 1937 in Berlin
Ein Männlein steht im Walde {1’10"]
Der kleine Sandmann bin ich, st! [2’24"]
Abends, will ich schlefen gehn* (Evening Prayer) [1’57"]
Elisabeth Schumann (soprano) *both voices; Ernest Lush (piano).
Recorded 28 August 1935 in Abbey Road Studio No.3, London
Hurr hopp hopp hopp (arranged for orchestra) [1’25"]
Juchhei! Nun ist die Hese tot (Witch Waltz) [2’19"]
Meta Seinemeyer (soprano); Helen Jung (mezzo)
Berlin State Opera Orchestra/Frieder Weissmann.
Recorded 15 February 1929 in Berlin
NAXOS 8.110897-98 [62’45" + 64’36"]


It came as something of a shock to realise that the final sessions for what is now apparently regarded as an historical recording of Humperdinck’s opera took place on my first birthday! In what is probably a vain attempt to hold the years at bay may I be allowed to refer to this EMI recording as a classic recording and avoid the use of "historical"?

My colleagues Ian Lace and Colin Clarke, Colin Clarke and Jonathan Woolf have already warmly welcomed this Naxos release. As Colin points out, the Naxos issue lacks the libretto and translation that EMI provides in their Great Recordings of the Century version of the same recording but the Naxos version is cheaper and includes the valuable appendix of some earlier recorded extracts.

I was intrigued to learn from Malcolm Walker’s valuable liner note that prior to this recording Karajan had never conducted this score. You certainly would not know that from the way he casts a spell over the proceedings. Or perhaps you would, for the mastery here is combined with freshness. There is no sense of a conductor taking into the studio a piece with which he is so familiar that it has grown stale in any way. From the very start of the overture you sense that this performance is going to be something special. The orchestral sound glows, starting with the burnished tone of the horns. The strings are rich and the woodwind playing is characterful and beautiful. The overture really is a microcosm of all the orchestral delights that await us in the rest of this account of the opera. As Malcolm Walker aptly puts it "from the opening bars to the conclusion, [Karajan] and the Philharmonia orchestra constantly ravish the ear with finely balanced orchestral playing."

Some might aver that Elisabeth Schwarzkopf is too mature and sophisticated a singer to sound convincing as a child. There are moments when I feel she comes close to crossing this line but these are few and far between and for me her gorgeous tone and clear diction are the key attributes upon which to focus. At the start of the celebrated dance with Hänsel in Act I, scene 1 (CD 1, track 3) she imparts an irresistible perkiness to the rhythms without ev