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Engelbert HUMPERDINCK (1854–1921)
Hänsel und Gretel (1893)
Theo Adam (bass) – Peter, a broom-maker; Gisela Schröter (mezzo) – Gertrud, his wife; Ingeborg Springer (contralto) – Hänsel, their son; Renate Hoff (soprano) – Gretel, their daughter; Peter Schreier (tenor) – Witch; Renate Krahmer (soprano) – Sandman/Dew Fairy;
Members of Dresdner Kreuzchor; Staatskapelle Dresden/Otmar Suitner
rec. Lukaskirche, Dresden, 1969
German libretto enclosed
BERLIN CLASSICS 0184182BC [54:23 + 40:37]
Experience Classicsonline

"Wagner Light" it has been called: Humperdinck’s music in Hänsel und Gretel. It is well known that he was a great admirer of Wagner and it is easy to hear the influences from the outset of the overture. Even so he has a tonal language of his own, permeated by folk-like motifs. But he works on a Wagnerian basis with Leitmotifs. The orchestration is by and large Wagnerian and there are other references to Wagner as well. The Witches’ Ride, for instance, is Humperdinck’s equivalent of Wagner’s Ride of the Walküre. The dream pantomime at the end of act 2 has more than occasional similarities to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg in its contrapuntal writing and overall atmosphere.

Otmar Suitner, with the excellent Staatskapelle Dresden at his disposal leads an unusually big-boned performance, where the Wagnerian kinship is emphasized. Suitner was a noted Wagnerian and Straussian and his reading is surefooted and free from idiosyncrasies as to choice of tempo and articulation.

His cast is also on a grander scale than has been common practice and it is tempting to draw further parallels with Wagner: Here Theo Adam, a leading Wotan of his time, is an ebullient and jolly but grand father. Gisela Schröter sings his wife Gertrud as she would Fricka, Wotan’s wife. It is a formidable reading and she makes the mother even more forbidding than usual. The children – are they twins like Siegmund and Sieglinde? – are also sung by more mature voices than we are used to. Ingeborg Springer’s Hänsel is not exactly matronly but for a boy, even a teenager, she is overripe. Renate Hoff’s Gretel conveys little in the way of girlishness. Both sing well and act convincingly – as do the rest of the cast – but one misses the innocence. Renate Hoff in the dual role of Sandman and Dew Fairy might have been an ideal Gretel in a less inflated production. Her singing is truly lovely.

The superb reading here, and one that comes close to being the best in any recorded performance, is Peter Schreier’s witch. This great Mozartean was – and is – one of the really great Lieder singers. His extraordinarily vivid and expressive handling of texts and his enunciation make him ideal in the role. In Wagnerian terms he is a Mime, a role he also sang in real life. I have always had a special liking for Elisabeth Söderström’s witch on the Pritchard recording but now I feel that Schreier’s is even more penetrating. This recording is worth the outlay for his/her scene alone.

And don’t misread me: The performance as a whole has many good features. I can’t imagine anyone buying it will be grossly disappointed, provided one accepts the grander-than-usual concept.

The disc come in a luxurious dark-green velvet box, the almost 40-year-old VEB recording has aged with pleasure. The booklet has a couple of good essays on the work, a full libretto (but no translations) and lovely old illustrations of the tale in colour.

There is no shortage of recordings of Hänsel und Gretel: Karajan (early 1950s and in mono, now on Naxos) is a classic, but Solti (Decca) and Pritchard (Sony BMG) or the recent Mackerras (Chandos – sung in English) are all highly recommendable and safer bets than the present set. Suitner however should not be overlooked and Schreier’s witch cries out to be heard.

Göran Forsling

Several other sets are more recommendable but Suitner’s big-boned reading shouldn’t be overlooked – and Peter Schreier’s witch cries out to be heard ... see Full Review


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