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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Aida (1871) - (sung in German).
Annelies Kupper (soprano) Aida; Max Lorenz (tenor) Radames; Margarete Klose (contralto) Amneris; Rudolf Gonszar (baritone) Amonasro; Otto von Rohr (bass) Ramfis; Christa Ludwig (mezzo) Priestess; Chorus and Orchestra of Hessian Radio/Kurt Schröder.
Rec. Frankfurt, Germany on November 11th, 1952. ADD mono
WALHALL WLCD0051 [144’18: 75’00 +69’18]

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Aida seems a favourite opera on the Walhall label. One has come my way before, also in German, with Schmidt-Isserstedt at the helm but there exists also WLCD0057 (VSO/Karajan); WLCD0031 (Fausto Cleva/Met) and WLCD007 (Clemens Kraus/Munich). Each, it would seem, has something at least of interest. Here in Frankfurt in 1952, the presence of one Christa Ludwig certainly made this reviewer leap to the CD player. By the way, this performance has been on CD on Myto but this is the first incarnation to come my way. The recording is, in the main, quite acceptable, although it can be strained to its limits; the end of Act 2 is a case in point.

The conductor on this occasion is Kurt Schröder, whose take on the Act 1 Prelude makes for interesting listening – he makes it sound like Wagner! This is Verdi trying to be Lohengrin-like (Prelude to that work’s Act 1), a concept that makes for a strange experience. This is especially so when Ramfis enters and starts singing in German; it is difficult not to expect ‘Sì, corre voce’ from Ramfis instead of ‘Hört, es geht die Stimme’. But once the linguistic shift to German has been made, some critical evaluations can be made. Schröder’s conducting is generally workmanlike and professional, although he can transcend this at times to generate real excitement; as he demonstrates in the first half of Act 4. Dances, though, can suffer from a distinctly painted-on Germanic gait. You have been warned.

Max Lorenz has divided critics over the years. The two camps of ‘for’ and ‘against’ can broadly be divided geographically – those inside Germany’s borders and those without. Lorenz was a Heldentenor, and that for sure comes across in his ‘Celeste Aida’ (‘Holde Aida’, of course). He has reserves to spare at the final hurdle. He could have held the last note forever, possibly. His rendition is hugely strong; some would say shouted. Clearly he is to dominate this recording, and so it turns out despite the excellence of his Aida, Annelies Kupper, who incidentally created the title role in the ‘official’ premiere of Richard Strauss’s Der Liebe de Danae. His desolation clearly comes through in Act 4 Scene 2 (‘La fatal pietra’; ‘Es hat der Stein such über mir’) where he, in conjunction with Schröder, manifests a dramatic crescendo that leads clearly to Aida’s vocal entrance.

Annelies Kupper sang Elsa von Brabant in a recently-reviewed Lohengrin on Preiser - a set that also shared Otto von Rohr. Her pure yet robust voice, a rare phenomenon, works supremely well as Aida. She is convincing in her portrayal while leaving one admiring her legato, and she can demonstrate real strength also, as in her ‘Qui Radames verrà’ (here ‘Hierher kommt Radames’, Act 3; CD2 track 4). Her enunciation is excellent, her intervals pure. There is a purity also of voice in its higher reaches at ‘Fuggiam gli arbori inospiti’ (‘Entflieh’n aus diesem Lande wir’) that makes for delicious listening. Her strength can be sampled at her highly strung, ‘Ritorna vincitor’ (‘Als Sieger kehr’ er heim!’). Kupper and Lorenz make a powerful team, particularly in the closing stages of the opera. The final track on this set begins at the memorable ‘O terra addio’ (‘Leb’ wohl, o Erde’) – and memorable it is, especially with Kupper’s radiant high register in top form. Lorenz almost matches her ... the occasional over-pushed accent apart.

Margarete Klose is huge-of-voice for this Amneris. Her outbursts in Act 4 are magnificently dramatic, but perhaps Act 2 shows her at her greatest - despite some bumpy orchestral contributions - her voice complementing Kupper’s perfectly.

Amonasro sounds evil in Rudolf Gonszar’s interpretation. And Christa Ludwig? A strong but lovely Priestess (Sacerdotessa), her melismas wonderful. It is interesting to note that this recording comes right at the very end of Ludwig’s stay at Frankfurt; she joined at the age of 18, debuting there as Orlovsky. Only three years later she was to begin her long association with the Vienna State Opera.

Aage Poulsen’s King has a great, rounded yet focused bass voice; Ramfis similarly is large of voice and presence (Otto von Rohr). And for once even the Messenger (Hans Bert Dick) is more than acceptable.

Like so many of these Walhall sets, this is worth a hearing. There is much to enjoy and in this case the recording is perfectly acceptable if nothing distinguished. Regular readers will know the score when it comes to documentation, though. No synopsis, just a track-listing: German, with Italian in parentheses.

Colin Clarke

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