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Kirsten Flagstad Songs and Scenes
Edvard GRIEG (1843–1907)
1. Efteraarsstormen, Op. 18 No. 4 [3:13]
2. Langs ei aa, Op. 33 No. 5 [2:22]
3. Mens jeg venter, Op. 60 No. 3 [2:52]
4. Fyremaal, Op. 33 No. 12 [3:36]
5. Med en vandlilje, Op. 25 No. 4 [2:30]
6. Prinsessen, EG 133 [3:09]
7. Jeg elsker deg, Op. 5 No. 3 [3:18]
8. En svane,Op. 25 No. 2 [3:26]
9. Den sårede,  Op. 33 No. 3 [4:06]
10. Tak for dit rad, Op. 21 No. 4 [1:13]
Henry PURCELL (1659–1695)
Dido and Aeneas:
11. Thy hand Belinda …When I am laid in earth [4:48]
Richard WAGNER (1813–1883)
Tannhäuser:
12. Allmächt’ge Jungfrau [5:58]
Tristan und Isolde:
13. Doch nun von Tristan! …Genau will ich’s vernehmen [10:35]
14. Mild und Leise (Liebestod) [7:04]
Götterdämmerung:
15. Starke Scheite schichtet mir dort (Immolation Scene) [19:10]
Kirsten Flagstad (soprano), Gerald Moore (piano) (1-6); Edwin McArthur (piano) (7); Philharmonia Orchestra/Warwick Braithwaite (8-11); Issay Dobrowen (12-13); Wilhelm Furtwängler (14-15)
rec. 1935 (7); 1948 (1-6, 8-13); 1952 (14-15)
REGIS RRC 1269 [77:27]



It might be argued that Kirsten Flagstad’s operatic repertoire was limited, at least as recorded. The truth is that after her breakthrough in 1935 she concentrated on a handful of roles, mainly Wagner. However, during her first twenty years, when she sang in her native Norway and occasionally in Sweden, she appeared in a wide variety of roles, from operetta to Elsa and Eva, the two most lyrical Wagner roles. In toto she sang during her career, which lasted for more than forty years, 74 roles: 45 in opera and 29 in operetta. She was initially regarded as a small voiced, lyrical soprano. Only gradually did she move into heavier repertoire. As early as 1921 she sang her first Desdemona in Otello, Amelia in Un ballo in maschera and Minnie in La fanciulla del West. During the 1920s she also took on Micaela and Marguerite, singing both roles more than forty times. By 1929 she was ready for Aida, Mimi in La bohème, Tosca and Elsa. It is a pity that no recordings exist of her in this repertoire – apart from Elsa, whose great solos she recorded in 1937 and 1957. It could be argued, however, that while there were many splendid Aidas in the 1930s, few could challenge Flagstad in the Wagnerian field.
 
As a lieder singer it was natural for her to champion her great compatriot Edvard Grieg, whom she recorded all through her career. On this disc we have one very early example, the 1935 recording of Jeg elsker dig, lyrical and youthful but with quite noisy background. This song was also part of her international farewell concert in the Royal Albert Hall 22 years later, albeit then sung with orchestral accompaniment. She also sang En svane (tr. 8) on that occasion. With the ever-sensitive Gerald Moore at the piano each and every one of the six first songs are little gems, invested with a feeling and freedom of expression that come with long familiarity and conviction, paired with her singing in her mother tongue. No little gem but arguably Grieg’s best song is Med en vandlilje, written in 1876. It was published in harness with five other Ibsen settings as opus 25, a group also including En svane. Both these songs are superbly sung here, as is Den sårede. I have many excellent Grieg recordings and were I forced for some reason to reduce my collection I would be hard-pressed to choose between, say, von Otter, Groop, Håkan Hagegård, the lovely Bodil Arnesen and, in the orchestral songs, Marita Solberg. I definitely couldn’t imagine a separation from Flagstad.
 
The only non-Wagner opera number on the disc, Dido’s lament from Dido and Aeneas, may come as a surprise to some readers. I have had this recording for more than thirty years, first on LP and then on CD. I regard it as one of the noblest readings on record, even though period performance sticklers may sniff. Recording it in 1948 she had not yet sung the opera on stage. That was to come in 1951, whereupon this became her most frequently performed opera, next to Tristan und Isolde, of course, which she sang on no less than 182 occasions. Here we catch her on marvellous form in the Isolde’s narrative and curse from the first act. The effect is fired by Issay Dobrowen’s white-hot conducting and Elisabeth Höngen’s inspired Brangäne. The sound is big and thrilling, more immediate in fact than on the Liebestod, culled from the complete 1952 recording with Furtwängler, where Flagstad seems curiously recessed and the orchestra murky. Not until I turned up the volume several steps did I get a more satisfactory sound, especially in the Immolation scene from Götterdämmerung, recorded at the same time. Flagstad is in terrific form here, sounding marginally more youthful than on the recording from 1948, also with Furtwängler.
 
I have heard better transfers than here and the intervals between the tracks are far too short. The end of the Tristan excerpt is very blunt but that is the case with the other transfers of this particular piece that I have, so it seems to have been recorded that way.
 
James Murray contributes an interesting biography on the great singer. Apart from the technical shortcomings that I have mentioned this is a highly desirable disc – especially at the Regis budget price.
 
Göran Forsling
 


 


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