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Richard WAGNER (1813–1883)
Wesendonck-Lieder; arr: Felix Mottl (tenor version):
1. No. 1 Der Engel [3:36]
2. No. 2 Stehe still [4:54]
3. No. 3 Im Treibhaus [7:37]
4. No. 4 Schmerzen [2:53]
5. No. 5 Träume [5:39]
Tristan und Isolde:
6. Dünkt dich das? (a. 3) [8:47]
Richard STRAUSS (1864–1949)
7. Verführung, Op. 33 No. 1 [8:39]
Richard WAGNER
Die Walküre (a. 1 sc. 3):
8. Ein Schwert verhiess mir der Vater [8:09]
9. Der Männer Sippe [6:07]
10. Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond [3:35]
Vier letzte Lieder:
11. No. 4 Im Abendrot [8:24]
René Kollo (tenor)
Ingrid Haubold (soprano) (tr. 8, 9)
Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin/Christian Thielemann
rec. Christuskirche, Berlin-Oberschöneweide, 30 August–6 September 1992
EMI CLASSICS 54776 [69:13]

Any account of René Kollo’s rise to fame reads like a modern Cinderella story. Born in 1937 he started as a pop singer, signing his first recording contract in 1959. Probably his biggest hit in Germany was Hello, Mary Lou. In the mid-sixties he gradually moved over to opera, singing lyrical roles on provincial stages. He made his debut at Bayreuth in 1969 in a minor role. Karajan heard him and engaged him for his forthcoming Dresden recording of Die Meistersinger in 1970. “You are the Stolzing I have been awaiting for forty years”, he said. The recording was a success and here all of a sudden we had an heroic tenor hailed as a saviour, when Heldentenöre were thin on the ground. He tried to ration his Wagner singing, sticking to both Mozart and operetta, but the demand was such that he was gradually drawn into the Wagner circus. Those heavy roles took their toll. When Solti recorded his first Meistersinger in 1975 Kollo was again Stolzing and one can clearly hear what had happened to his voice during the passing five years. His reading of the role was impressive for Karajan and by 1975 it had deepened further but the beauty and freedom of the voice had become compressed, there was more obvious strain and the tone had hardened. He continued to be the most sought-after singer in his Fach for decades and what he had lost in vocal quality was for many years compensated by his intelligence and his deep understanding of his characters. In the early 1990s there were frequent signs of tear and wear and he developed an ugly wobble. His Tannhäuser recording under Janowski from this period was largely unenjoyable, while seeing him perform the role added a dimension that made it possible to disregard some of the defects. When this disc arrived I thought I knew what to expect and the first song from Wesendonck-Lieder largely confirmed my suspicions.
The voice is frail and worn and the wobble on sustained notes is heavy and ugly. His warm pianissimo singing is intact, however, and a thing to admire and in Stehe still he sings with a concentrated inwardness that is very true to the text – unfortunately not printed in the booklet. At forte the tone is hard but he manages to tame the wobble successfully and while I still wish he had recorded these songs much earlier it’s no use weeping over a missed opportunity. Better then to appreciate his deep insights and his way of communicating them. In many respects this is one of the most moving readings of these songs and few sopranos have delved deeper than René Kollo. My favourite version is still Régine Crespin on EMI from around 1963 – ravishingly beautiful but in the last resort shallower. Schmerzen is the song requiring most heft and here Kollo has to struggle but the wobble is held in check. Träume is sung more or less as a long whisper and, perhaps against all odds, this is a surprisingly successful reading. Moreover I believe that it is the only available recording of the tenor version. Melchior recorded Schmerzen and Träume in the 1940s but never the full cycle. It was clever programming to let the songs with their Tristan associations be followed by the ‘real’ Tristan’s third act monologue. Kollo starts at a soft pianissimo, only gradually working up to ecstasy. His tone is not consistently attractive but the intensity and the intelligence of the reading is never in question. He had been singing the role since 1980 and also recorded it under Carlos Kleiber for DG about a decade before this revisit.
The long Mackay song Verführung by Richard Strauss, was also written with the soprano voice in mind but here the strain is too palpable and the hardness of tone becomes unattractive. Insight and intensity are again guiding-stars in the scene from the first act of Die Walküre. He has the required heft for the cries of Wölse but he squeezes the tone. Against this is the sheer beauty of his phrasing in the lyrical moments. Ingrid Haubold’s Sieglinde is also full of insight and apart from a certain squalliness hers is an honourable reading of Der Männer Sippe. Winterstürme is not only a Spring song but also a metaphor for the love that awakens between the twins; Kollo’s inward and lyrical reading is highly motivated.
Im Abendrot from Vier letzte Lieder is probably the only recording by a male singer. Kollo phrases sensitively, carefully, almost hesitantly and adopts a comparably slow tempo, but it works and he is helped by Thielemann’s thoughtful reading of the Autumnal postlude. This must, by the way, be one of the conductor’s earliest recordings.
While not everything is perfect on this disc there is still so much insight and intelligence involved here that it would be a pity to overlook this issue. I have listened with new ears to several of the songs and excerpts here.
Göran Forsling


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