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Preiser records 



Michael Bohnen (1887-1965) - Volume 3
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Der fliegende Hollander: Die Frist ist urn [8:02]
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg: Was duftet doch der Flieder [4:07]; Gut'n Abend, Meister with Lotte Lehmann [8:35]; Wahn! Wahn! Überall Wahn! [6:26]; Gruss Gott. mein Junker with Ernst Kraus [8:44]; Euch macht ihr's leicht [3:48]
Die Walküre: Lebt wohl. du kühnes. herrliches [6:59]
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
Faust: O gib junges Blut with Robert Hutt [6:01];  Ja, das Gold regiert die Well [2:01]; Scheinst zu schlafen du im Stübchen [3:15]; Auf eilet!  with Lotte Lehmann and Robert Hutt [2:30]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Rigoletto: Gleich sind wir beide [3:57]
Ruggiero LEONCAVALLO (1858-1919)
Bajazzo; Schaut her, ich bin's [3:35]
Giuseppe PUCCINI (1854-1928)
Tosca: Spät in der Nacht ist's [4:17]
Bedřich SMETANA (1824-1884)
Die verkaufte Braut: Weiss ich doch Eine with Robert Hutt [2:33]
Michael Bohnen (bass-baritone)
Unnamed orchestras and conductors
rec. 1916-25
PREISER 89676 [76:00]


Preiser has reached the third volume of its laudable Bohnen series and with it the core of his 1916-17 Odeons. Flanking them – this particular disc doesn’t run chronologically but divides into handy composer blocks – we find Grammophon sides from 1916 and later. The final track, the Smetana extract from The Bartered Bride, is a late acoustic dating from 1925 and therefore the only side to stand on the cusp of electric recordings.

Bohnen was famed for his characterization and for some outsize stage magnetism. Fortunately much of this histrionic quality was preserved in the performances on disc – though not always to the betterment of credible impersonations it has to be admitted. In Wagner he was often magnificent. One of the most valuable things about this latest Preiser is to have the complete Odeon tranche available in one sitting. They suffered limited distribution because though they were recorded in 1916 and 1917 they weren’t released until after the War – and then on a limited basis outside German speaking countries. Looked at biographically these earliest sides are remarkable inasmuch as Bohnen only made his debut in 1910 and it was really only his successful Wagnerian roles in 1914 that brought him to prominence. But Odeon’s confidence was not misplaced nor that of Grammophon for whom he sang at the same time.

One needs to discount the typically weak brass dominated organisation – let’s not call it an orchestra – provided by Odeon. The voice is the thing. And Bohnen brings a steady emission of perfectly sustained bass-baritonal magnificence to many of these sides. Pitch is seldom a real issue, and the top register never feels forced whilst the bottom is rounded and secure. His conception is individual and theatrically impressive. What might not impress quite so much is that lion-mane shaking of the voice. He does it in one of the many extended Mastersinger extracts, Was duftet doch der Flieder where one might also find the voice a touch on the hollow side. But how fortunate that so many Mastersinger sides were recorded and how richly full of character the singing. Joining him is Lotte Lehmann is full, fresh voice and when Bohnen chuckles it’s the real deal with nothing coarse about it or stagey – not here at least. The gravity of the sole example from Walküre is also notable – tonal variety and dramatic but within reasonable limits.

Maybe the other examples of his art are less comprehensively successful. One feels him out-sung stylistically by his colleague  Robert Hutt in their foray into Faust. Both men are joined by Lehmann for a 1916 Grammophon Faust; Lehmann sounds distant – so maybe she was standing rather too far away from the recording horn. Bohnen’s take on Leoncavallo is certainly different. He ranges from barking strictures to watery portamenti and most stops in between; hardly idiomatic but an avid example of how he approached the repertoire. The Smetana scene with Hutt makes for an engaging, jovial and enjoyable envoi. 

The transfers have minimal wear and have not been over-filtered – they’re warm and natural sounding. Bohnen collectors will certainly want this latest instalment.

Jonathan Woolf 




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