Many of Laubenthal’s
discs have made it to compilations, where he joins such as Leider
and Schorr. His Wagnerian discs have also seen some prominence
not least in Pearl’s restoration of the London and Berlin 1927-32
Ring cycle in which Laubenthal played so important a role. But
this is the only currently available single disc selection devoted
to him that I know and it happily restores the 1919 Parlophones
and the 1923 Homochords as well as giving us the more widely
available Wagnerian extracts.
As a Heldentenor
Laubenthal (1886-1971) was special. Less feted than his better-known
tenorial colleagues, such as Melchior, his was nevertheless
a remarkable story. He had a successful if circumscribed career
at the Met but did perform in the first American performance
of Jenufa in 1924, whilst he was lauded at Covent Garden especially
for his Siegfried and his Tristan. His public career was actually
very short and it was pretty much over by 1934 when he was still
only in his late forties.
We actually begin
with his 1930 Weber – dramatically incisive with conductor Albert
Coates driving his forces hard, as he so often did; here the
fiddles of the LSO take on a truly Wagnerian sheen and heft.
The Wagner extracts are well known but imperishable examples
of his art. Schorr joins him in Die Meistersinger, no small
bonus, and we can hear the tenor’s characteristically bright,
forward sound. His diction is excellent. With Blech leading
the Berlin orchestra, not as pressing as Coates, we find that
Laubenthal’s voice is not caught quite as immediately as it
is in the London HMV sessions but it doesn’t hinder appreciation
of his strong, animated and very lyrical line nor his innately
tasteful vocal production. The voice itself is not intrinsically
a beautiful instrument; it doesn’t have caressing Italianate
warmth; it’s a different animal altogether – cutting, bright
and tremendously incisive.
And yet it’s a voice
capable of considerable sensitivity – listen to the mezza voce
in Siegfried or the tonal depth in the lower part of the voice
in the Götterdämmerung extract. And listen to the equally acute
playing of the Berlin winds behind him; the principal clarinettist
in particular is a real artist. The earlier recordings, dating
from just after the First War, show him in his most youthful
voice, in his mid-thirties. In the Meyerbeer we hear the kind
of plangency one doesn’t often associate with him whilst in
the Verdi one can hear the youthfulness of that somewhat metallic
ring. Numerous German tenors showed affinities with Smetana
and Laubenthal is no exception – lyric but certainly not honeyed,
more resinous in his approach. His Eugen Onegin is a touch lugubrious
and his Tosca a bit flaccid; and in fact his Pagliacci rather
misses the histrionic point, so not everything is excellent.
But no tenor is a master of the entire repertoire and at his
best Laubenthal was a figure of real importance.
The transfers are
without problem, a touch noisy in the earlier sides but then
some of the Homochords are difficult to deal with – and the
voice itself remains at all times firmly in the centre. Concise
notes complete a very recommendable disc.