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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Fidelio (1805, revised 1814) (highlights)
Leonore – Inga Nielsen (soprano)
Florestan – Gösta Winbergh (tenor)
Rocco – Kurt Moll (bass)
Don Pizarro – Alan Titus (baritone)
Marzelline – Edith Lienbacher (soprano)
Jacquino – Herwig Pecoraro (tenor)
Don Fernando – Wolfgang Glashof (bass)
First Prisoner – Péter Pálinkás (tenor)
Second Prisoner – József Moldvay
Hungarian Radio Chorus,
Nicholas Esterházy Sinfonia/Michael Halász
rec. Phoenix Studios, Budapest, Hungary, 7-10 and 14-18 November 1998. DDD
NAXOS 8.557892 [71:06]



Fidelio was Beethoven's only opera and it never achieved great success during his life-time.  Its first performances were received with ambivalence and not even a change of overture, name and substantial revision could ignite any real box office enthusiasm.  By the early 20th century Fidelio's star was on the rise.  The priests of the Beethoven cult hailed it as a work of genius, and suddenly this ugly duckling of an opera graced the repertory of every serious opera house you could care to name, from the Met in New York to Klemperer's Kroll in Berlin.  In more recent times Fidelio's star has waned again.  It is not frequently performed and most lovers of Beethoven's music, who come to him through the symphonies, the concertos, the string quartets or the piano sonatas, come to Fidelio late, if at all.

These listeners will be tempted by this disc of highlights - tempted and richly rewarded.  Here they will discover over 70 minutes of wonderful music.  The opera is not Beethoven's greatest composition, but it is certainly the work of a composer at the height of his powers grappling with an unfamiliar medium.  This generously filled disc of highlights is an excellent introduction.

This disc of highlights is drawn from Naxos's acclaimed complete recording of Fidelio (Naxos 8.660070-71).  The performances are superb.  Halász leads an exciting and dramatic account that is informed by period performance practice but is not in thrall to it.  His tempi are generally swift but not rushed, imparting a lightness to the score that is often lacking in other accounts.  His orchestra, which uses modern instruments, is small and responsive.  Only the brass has a tendency to roughness, but this is a minor quibble.  Generally the playing is very fine indeed.

The cast is also excellent.  Nielsen's Leonore is vulnerable and winning.  She is secure in her upper and lower registers and presents the heroine as one with real grit.  She is well matched by Winbergh's characterful Florestan.  He uses his warm, lyrical tenor voice to create a Florestan of character and one worth saving.  The two principals are supported perfectly by the rest of the cast.  The veteran Kurt Moll is a tower of vocal strength.  Titus is suitably evil and Glashof benign.  Lienbacher sounds youthful, sweet and all a-flutter.  In short, the whole cast is superb, and well integrated.  This is a proper ensemble performance, rather than one which treats the opera as a star vehicle.

The result is a straightforward Fidelio which stands comparison with the best.  It has all the virtues of Mackerras's excellent recording on Telarc with a better cast, and is every bit as successful as Harnoncourt's recording on Warner Classics with none of Harnoncourt's little eccentricities. 

Those looking for an introduction to this opera need look no further.  There is no better disc of Fidelio highlights on the market at any price.  Those who already know and love this opera will also find much to enjoy here.  They will already have their favourite performances - mine is Klemperer's big-boned account on EMI with the matchless Christa Ludwig and Jon Vickers in the starring roles - but they should consider supplementing their other recordings with this marvellous disc.  Ideally, though, this recording should be enjoyed in full. I would recommend spending a few more pounds or dollars to buy the complete recording from these forces.  No matter which Fidelio is your favourite, Halász and co have something to say in this music and it is something worth hearing.

Tim Perry

see also Review by David Dunsmore


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