is a live 1940 performance preserved on acetates in Dutch
radio archives. It’s sung in German and was performed in
The Hague – this was the first of two performances given
in a production by Erich von Wymetal with staging by Alfred
Roller. Though the sound is really rather good in the circumstances – as
Dutch and German radio survivals tend to be – there is
an important caveat to be made. The majority of the Act
IV finale has been lost and this represents something of
a now unavoidably grievous loss.
presiding over the ensemble is Knappertsbusch and with
him a variable but often exciting cast. The Vienna Philharmonic
takes time to get going – the string section sounds quite
small and they employ a lot of portamenti, especially in
the first Act. Elisabeth Rutgers impresses as Susanna.
She begins rather sharp but her impersonation is vivid
and imaginative and she finds her voice almost immediately.
Paul Schöffler is not in his best voice – he yelps alarmingly
at one point in his First Act Cavatina and is generally
rather a blustery Figaro. Maria Reining is the Countess
and hopes were high for her; she does sing with real stage
nuance but there are technical problems that she is never
able comfortably to surmount. Try her effortful Act II
aria Und Susanna kommt where she has to break for
breaths far too often. The Marcellina of Olga Levko-Antosch
is somewhere between mellow and plumy. The Basilio of Hermann
Gallos sounds rather strangulated though the Almaviva of
Alfred Poell is a pleasant surprise, stentorian and firmly
controlled, theatrically convincing.
course there are casualties in this seemingly hasty production.
There is a lot of stage business and aural perspective
invariably comes and goes. Cherubino’s (Dora Komarek) first
Act aria (here “Neue Freunden”) is notable for some very
elastic phrasing and a mildly chaotic ending with a chaotic
continuo at the end – a piano by the way, as was pretty
much the custom. Knappertsbusch was of course never the
most fluent or fleet of beasts on the rostrum and there
are moments when rhythms are slackened and blunted. Ensemble
suffers as well from time to time as in the woolly climax
to the first Act where gusto has to compensate for discipline.
It’s also a shame that the finale of Act II carries over
form the first to the second discs – but this was necessary
to fit the performance onto two discs and the historically
minded won’t find this too much of a burden.
all the deficiencies – the lost finale, the acetate thumps,
theatrical noises and exigencies of a live performance,
the sometimes less than stellar singing - this set does
have a rude kind of life, a real sense of communality in
its theatrical life. There’s vigour and drama and a lot
of that clearly got across the lights, as the audience
breaks into delighted laughter genuinely enough. The fact
that this is a first ever release makes it even more intriguing.
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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