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Franz LEHÁR (1870 – 1948) Highlights (in French)
Le Tsarévitch (Der Zarewitsch) (1927) [8:34] Introduction; Chanson de la Volga; Un beau rêve; Giuditta (1934) [13:39] Oh, signora, oh signora; Sur mes lèvres; Oh, ma belle étoile; Frédérique (Friederike) (1928) [10:20] Overture; Chantez, oiseaux; Quatuor des étudiants; Duo de la belle Alsacienne; Ah, pourquoi m’as-tu pris mon coeur?; Le Comte de Luxembourg (Der Graf von Luxemburg) (1909) [25:12] Entrée du comte; Entrée de Suzanne; Duo Suzanne – Fernand; Suzanne; Duo Basil – Juliette; Duo Suzanne – Fernand; Romance de Suzanne et Brissard; Duo Suzanne – Fernand; Finale; La danse de libellules (Libellentanz) (1922) [12:26]
Lina Dachary, Anita Ammersfeld (sopranos), Remi Corazza, Alain Vanzo, Henri Legay (tenors), Aimé Doniat, André Dran (baritones)
Chorus and Orchestre Lyrique of the ORTF/Adolphe Sibert
rec. studios, ORTF, Radio France, Paris, 1966 (La danse des libellules), 1970 and 1980 (Giuditta) and 1971
NAXOS 8.111010 [70:11]

Adolphe Sibert (1899 – 1991), to whose memory this disc was produced and first released in 1995, was Austro-Hungarian by birth, Parisian by adoption. He started playing the violin at the age of six and later studied piano, counterpoint, composition and conducting under Furtwängler and Clemens Krauss. At the age of 24 he became conductor at Vienna Radio until the Anschluss in 1938, and during those years he worked with Lehár, Kálmán, Stolz and Richard Strauss. He then settled in France, first at Nice and later in Paris where for many years he produced broadcasts of Viennese and light orchestral music.

On this disc are excerpts from five Lehár operettas, Frédérique and La danse des libellules recorded in studio, the others are live recordings with lots of applause from an enthusiastic audience. Everything, with one notable exception, is sung in French, the chorus and the orchestra not always delivering the smoothest of playing and singing. But the enthusiasm is just as great as that of the audience, no doubt thanks to that fiery spirit Adolphe Sibert. Apart from some over-sentimental playing and arrangements these are generally lively, high-spirited performances. The soloists are mostly very good - several of them important names of their day, not only in France - but the sound is variable and can sometimes be quite rough. Big concerted scenes tend to be congested and the recording balance is a matter of swings and roundabouts. The choice of items seems rather capricious but I would guess that the producer has sorted out the less successful bits and pieces. What remains is a string of pearls - genuine gems (oh, those metaphors!) - with Der Graf von Luxemburg filling more than a third of the disc.

Without going into detailed analysis of each number I will point to a few things of interest. Starting with Der Zarewitsch we hear the chorus trying to sound Russian with a horde of balalaikas placed well in the foreground. Remy Corazza sings a sensitive Volga Song while the light soprano Lina Dachary, the most frequently featured soloist on the disc, is a very French light soprano. Her voice is bright with some extra sharp edge but singing with real flair, spontaneity and perfect control, if that isn’t a contradiction in terms. Don’t be put off by her singing in the first excerpt, she is much better further on.

From Giuditta, Lehár’s last stage work, premiered at the Vienna State Opera in 1934 with Richard Tauber and Jarmila Novotná, we get the two great tenor arias sung with the right rhythmic lilt and seductive tone by that favourite tenor Alain Vanzo. In Freunde, das Leben ist lebenswert from the first act he caresses the phrases so lovingly, although the background, chorus and strings, may be sweeter than is good for one’s digestion. From the third act we hear Du bist meine Sonne, where in the French translation the Sun becomes a star, Oh, ma belle étoile. He is a little strained at the top but otherwise he is a model for how this should be sung and his final note in falsetto is goose-pimple stuff. In between we hear the obviously German soprano Anita Ammersfeld singing Meine Lippen sie küssen so heiss in the original language with brilliance and warmth and a somewhat too generous vibrato, but this is a voice with star quality. Ovations from the audience!

For the rest it’s very much Lina Dachary who is a real charmer. Listen to her last aria from Friederike (track 8). See what I mean? Just before that she has had a duet with Aimé Doniat, a little dry-voiced but an old hand at operetta. André Dran, who joins her in several numbers from Der Graf von Luxemburg is also a bit dry and strained but he too can act, but the one piece on this disc that really has "face" is the little duet with Dominique Tirmont and Monique Stiot (track 13).

Finally in Libellentanz she is partnered by the elegant and well-modulated Henri Legay, famous for his participation in Monteux’s recording of Massenet’s Manon with Victoria de los Angeles in the 1950s.

For the true Lehár enthusiast this is highly interesting and a valuable document of what Radio France served their listeners in the field of Viennese operetta. Others might feel compilations in the original German more to their liking but adventurous-minded listeners should still consider this issue, not least for the opportunity to hear some excellent soloists.

Göran Forsling



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