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Emmerich KÁLMÁN (1882-1953)
Die Csárdásfürstin (1915) [85.19]
Sylva Varesco ... Yvonne Kenny (soprano)
Edwin Ronald ... Michael Roider (tenor)
Countess Stasi ... Mojca Erdmann (soprano)
Count Boni ... Marco Kathol (tenor)
Feri von Kerekes ... Karl-Michael Ebner (tenor)
General Rohnsdorff ... Hellmuth Klumpp (speaker)
The Prince ... Heinz Holecek (baritone)
The Princess ... Yvonne Kálmán (speaker)
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra and Philharmonic Chorus/Richard Bonynge
Recorded 9-17 December 2002, Slovak Radio Concert Hall, Bratislava
Orchestral selections:
Dorfkinder; Vive le Roi (Der Zigeunerprimds)
Hollaho (Die Fascingsfee)
Lockend soll ertönen Dir ((Das Höllandweibchen)
Grand Palotás de la eine (Der Teufels reiter)

Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Richard Bonynge
Recorded 22-23 September 2003, Slovak Radio Concert Hall, Bratislava
SACD/CD hybrid format
NAXOS 6.110075-6 [56.20 + 57.17]

 

The Hungarian composer Emmerich Kálmán settled in Vienna and created several lively and tuneful operettas, of which the best known are The Gypsy Princess (Vienna, 1915) and Countess Maritza (Vienna, 1924). His music is notable for its melodic freshness and its subtle fusion of the Viennese waltz with Hungarian dance forms. This is clothed in rich orchestral textures and colourful instrumentation which confirm his fondness for the romantic idiom of Tchaikovsky in particular. Kálmán was perhaps the most successful of all the later composers of Viennese operettas, in terms of updating his works to keep pace with prevailing tastes. He took immense care when selecting libretti, while his musical achievement was substantial also.

Kálmán's Jewish roots led him to leave Vienna in 1938, going first to Paris and then to the United States. In 1942 he chose to relinquish his Hungarian nationality when Hungary became allied with Hitler, and after the war he moved to Paris, where he lived for the remaining eight years of his life.

Anyone coming to Kálmán for the first time should find this pair of discs immensely rewarding. As well as an appealing recording of one his best known operettas, there are several attractive orchestral items drawn from other compositions, and these are appealing too.

Naxos offers SACD surround sound, and there is certainly plenty of depth as well as a full account of the music’s richly colourful orchestral palette. As we often find, the voices can be highlighted some of the time, though to quite pleasing effect since they are so sympathetic to the idiom and the performance.

When Csárdásfürstin first appeared in Vienna, during the second year of the First World War, its theme of an aristocrat besotted with an actress was deemed unpatriotic in some quarters, among those who remembered that the young Emperor Franz Josef had been subject to this indiscretion many years before. Despite all obstacles, in the operetta the two characters marry.

The score contains a succession of appealing and vivacious numbers, though there is room for sentimentality too. The latter emotion often links with images of the Viennese waltz, delivered with all due schmalz. There are several highlights which are performed at annual Viennese concerts and the like; but in truth one of the glories of this Naxos production is its completeness. This allows the clearly articulated construction of the full operetta to be appreciated on its own terms, with particular success in the three act-finales, which develop much vigour and momentum.

The various passages of melodrama – spoken dialogue above music – are particularly well done, for which all praise is due to Hellmuth Klumpp and Yvonne Kálmán. If the singing is not quite as distinguished as on the existing EMI version (1971) starring Anneliese Rothenberger and Nicolai Gedda, there is still much to admire. In any case this version is free from disfiguring cuts and relies on what Kálmán actually wrote. In other words, this is authentic.

What is certainly true to Kálmán’s style is the infectious vitality of the rhythms, which Bonynge consistently delivers with all the aplomb of an experienced conductor of ballet music. There is also a full range of expression: from vital celebration through to melancholy pathos, as demanded by the score.

Among the singers Yvonne Kenny justifies her star billing with lustrous tone and fiery vitality, as required. She is also secure right across her role’s vocal range, something that is not always true of leading ladies. The secondary soprano role of Countess Stasi is well taken by Mojca Erdmann. The male singers are experienced in this repertoire, as members of the Vienna Volksoper, while the Slovak chorus is also wholly at one with the operetta style.

Reasonably enough, the spoken dialogue in between the musical numbers has been trimmed, although those wishing to explore the details of the libretto will find it available via the Naxos website. One real disappointment is the location of the break between CD1 and CD2, an example of insensitive editing and production that earns a black mark. Why do companies allow these decisions to be made by those who do not know the work in question? But at the usual Naxos price, this is a bargain indeed.

Terry Barfoot

see also review by Ian Lace



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