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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 – 1791)
Die Entführung aus dem Serail

Teresa Stich-Randall (soprano) – Konstanze, Nicolaï Gedda (tenor) – Belmonte, Carmen Prietto (soprano) – Blonde, Michel Sénéchal (tenor) – Raffaele Arië (bass) – Osmin, Jean Vernier (speaking part) – Bassa Selim
Chorale Elisabeth Brasseur
Orchestre de la Société du Conservatoire/Hans Rosbaud
Recorded at Aix-en-Provence, 11 July 1954
WALHALL WLCD 0064 [58:56 + 51:19]

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This live recording from the Aix-en-Provence festival in 1954 is a pleasant surprise. The sound is quite acceptable and the orchestra, although a bit thin, is far from undernourished. Woodwind solos get their due without being in any way highlighted. Stage noises are of course unavoidable and the soloists come and go according to their stage movements but on the whole it is quite easy to listen to. Only Belmonte’s third act aria, Ich baue ganz is omitted and in its place, at the beginning of the act, his second act aria Wenn der Freude Tränen fliessen is inserted. The spoken dialogue is sometimes foreshortened, sometimes amended, which is often the case with Singspiele. The orchestra play well and Rosbaud conducts a well-paced performance, lively but not going to extremes.

There is a fine line-up of young singers with fresh voices and a good feeling for Mozartean style. At the centre of the action is the young Nicolaï Gedda, here caught less than two years after his official debut at the Royal Opera in Stockholm and already in the midst of a busy international career. He was an outstanding Mozart singer and among tenors of broadly his generation Leopold Simoneau and Fritz Wunderlich were probably his only serious competitors. Both Simoneau and Wunderlich recorded this part. During the 1960s Gedda tackled it twice: once with Josef Krips for EMI in Vienna and then for the same company in English with Yehudi Menuhin (his only opera recording as far as I know). The latter was recently reissued on Chandos in their "Opera in English" series. Here Gedda sings a suave Belmonte with ravishing pianissimos and impressive breath-control. He acts convincingly with his voice and is both eager and plaintive in his second aria Konstanze, dich wiederzusehen (CD1 track 8). He has of course a ringing forte when needed. Belmonte needs a voice with a great deal of intensity, otherwise he becomes bland.

As his beloved Konstanze we hear the even younger Teresa Stich-Randall, who made few recordings. She is probably best remembered for her lovely Sophie in Karajan’s Rosenkavalier but she also recorded Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte for Philips. A lighter-voiced Konstanze than most hers was more of a Blonde-voice. In the quartet (CD2 track 8) it is sometimes hard to know who is singing, but Stich-Randall’s is a warm voice bearing similarities to Lisa Della Casa’s yet her bell-like top notes are personal and characteristic. She sings a very good Martern aller Arten (CD1 track 20) with fluent coloratura and a fine trill; her pianissimos are just as ravishing as Gedda’s. Both singers are superb in their last act duet (CD2 tracks 15 – 16). It is hard to imagine better legato singing.

As the boisterous Osmin we hear the Bulgarian Raffaele Arië, not normally associated with Mozart. His name is more associated with Boris Godunov or Filippo II. However everything I have heard of him - not so much I’m afraid - is surpassed by this beautifully sung performance. Of course beauty of tone is not a prime requirement for Osmin but Arië’s evenly produced bass with its great warmth makes Osmin a much more human character, even though he also reveals his real self in startlingly threatening terms.

The secondary couple don’t quite measure up to the three main characters. Even so the very young Michel Sénéchal is a characterful Pedrillo and sings the first stanza of his third act serenade Im Mohrenland gefangen war (CD2 track 11) sotto voce, and very beautifully. Elsewhere he is lively and expressive, not least in the spoken dialogue. The San Francisco-based Carmen Prietto, a name hitherto unknown to me, has a pretty voice but her intonation is sometimes suspect and she has a tendency to scoop up to the notes. Welche Wonne, welche Lust (CD2 track 2) is lively but a bit anonymous.

For a good studio-made alternative the contemporaneous Fricsay-version on DG is recommendable with a gruff but really menacing Josef Greindl as Osmin, a fluent and smooth Ernst Haefliger as Belmonte and Rita Streich the best Blonde anywhere. However Maria Stader’s fluttery Konstanze is something of a drawback. The aforementioned Krips recording with Gedda, Rothenberger and Gottlob Frick would also be competitive if it were available but the top contender is undoubtedly Karl Böhm, also on DG, with Arleen Auger, Reri Grist, Peter Schreier and Kurt Moll – a line-up that is hard to beat.

This Rosbaud version impresses on its own terms and does so despite the sparseness of the documentation: there is a cast list and a track-list but no timings, no liner notes, no texts, not even a synopsis. The set is well worth the modest outlay allowing us to hear Gedda, Stich-Randall and Arië in their early prime.

Göran Forsling

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