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
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.