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Bedřich SMETANA (1824–1884)
Prodaná nevěsta (The Bartered Bride) (1866)
Karl Kümmel (baritone) – Kruschina; Helena Bindhart (soprano) – Kathinka; Elfriede Trötschel (soprano) – Marie; August Heimpel (bass) – Micha; Anneliese Schlosshauer (mezzo) – Agnes; Willy Müller (tenor) – Wenzel; Kurt Wolinski (tenor) – Hans; Heinz Rehfuss (bass) – Kezal; Carl Ebert (tenor) – Springer; Helga Rosenthal (soprano) – Esmeralda; Ernst Altmann (tenor) – Muff
Frankfurter Opernchor; Frankfurter Opernhaus- und Museumsorchester/Walter Goehr
rec. Frankfurt, 1954
Bonuses:
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841–1904)
Der Jakobiner
Duet: Will mit Dir reden nun [5:12]
Duet: Warum so unleidlich? … Wenn der Herbst zieht [9:33]
Elfriede Trötschel (soprano); Lorenz Fehenberger (tenor); Orchester der Staatsoper Dresden/Karl Elmendorff
rec. 1944
Leoš JANÁČEK (1854–1928)
Katja Kabanova
Scene: Weißt Du was seltsam ist? [9:57]
Elfriede Trötschel (soprano); Sieglinde Großmann (mezzo); Orchester der Staatsoper Dresden/Kurt Striegler
rec. 1946
GALA GL100810 [75:47 + 66:24]

 

Experience Classicsonline


Hearing this old recording of Die verkaufte Braut, which is the German title, was a true nostalgia trip. It was my first recording of this opera, bought from the Concert Hall Record Club back in the mid-1960s. I haven’t played the LPs for many a moon but the performance was largely as I remembered it, warts and all. When I bought the Supraphon set with Gabriela Beňačková and Peter Dvorsky more than 25 years ago it immediately superseded the old one on several counts: it was more complete, the sound quality was immensely better, by and large the singing was superior and it was sung in the original Czech, while the Frankfurt set is in German. In between I had also acquired a highlights LP, also in German, with Pilar Lorengar, Fritz Wunderlich and Gottlob Frick, conducted by Rudolf Kempe. That recording was reissued not long ago and it is also preferable (see review). 

But this doesn’t imply that the Concert Hall recording is without merit. It is true that the sound is dated, mono only and rather boxy, but it is acceptably clear and detailed, at least when it comes to instrumental solos and individual voices. Orchestral tuttis tend to be congested but dynamics are rather wide and the double basses in the overture are impressive. The orchestra emerges as a first class band and there is vitality and rhythmic élan there as well as in the other well known orchestral numbers. Walter Goehr, father to composer Alexander Goehr, was one of the house conductors of Concert Hall in the 1950s – he died far too young in 1960. I acquired quite a number of his recordings, spanning most epochs and styles in music history. Among other things he recorded Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea with fine feeling for period authenticity. His contribution to the sense of Czech atmosphere in this recording is important – in spite of the German text. The choral forces are also more than acceptable, though there are some sprawling sopranos. The verve of the opening chorus, one of the finest things in this delectable score, is infectious. 

The solo singing is variable. The undoubted star is Heinz Rehfuss as the marriage-broker Kezal. Best known perhaps as a superb oratorio bass and highly accomplished Lieder singer, he was the possessor of one of the finest voices of his time, more baritone than bass actually. He was also a lively and expressive actor. Compared to Gottlob Frick he is more civilized, less burlesque, has little of the pitch-black quality and the rock-steady low notes, but he sings magnificently even so. A bel canto Kezal! 

Elfriede Trötschel was one of the finest German sopranos of the same period, not least in the Mozart and Richard Strauss repertoire. She doesn’t seem to have been in best voice though during this recording. Her tone is a little lacklustre and there is a tendency to shrillness on top notes. But she is a sensitive artist and truly touching in her sad solo in Act III Wie fremd und todt ist Alles umher (CD 2 tr. 12). Pilar Lorengar on the Kempe set has a quick vibrato that may not be to everybody’s taste but she is fresher and more charming than on any other recording I know. Kurt Wolinski as Hans is a lively actor but vocally rather provincial and compared to the superb Fritz Wunderlich he is second-rate. Willy Müller’s harsh and penetrating tones are far from beautiful but he draws a fine portrait of Wenzel. Among the minor roles Karl Kümmel’s Kruschina and Helga Rosenthal’s Esmeralda are good but even more Carl Ebert’s Springer stands out. I wonder if this can have been the legendary director, known not least from Glyndebourne. He was after all a splendid actor and Springer is primarily a spoken part. Listen to him at the beginning of Act III (CD 2 tr. 3). He sounds rather elderly and the Carl Ebert was 67 in 1954. Does anyone know? 

One of my great disappointments when I bought this recording was that the most beautiful music in the opera, the consorted second part of Hans’ and Marie’s first act duet was cut. Only some orchestral fragments remained. Since the text was printed in the libretto I had hoped that it had been reinstated for this issue but it hadn’t. 

There are three bonus tracks after the opera on CD 2, two duets from Dvořák’s Der Jakobiner and one from Janáček’s Katja Kabanova. In the Dvořák pieces – lovely music as is so much in this fairly unknown opera – Elfriede Trötschel is partnered by the fine tenor Lorenz Fehenberger. He is probably best known to opera collectors for his Lohengrin in the Deutsche Grammophon recording from 1953. He is a sensitive singer with a honeyed delivery in pianissimo. The end of the second duet is ravishing. Trötschel is in far better voice here and really shows why she was held in such high esteem by aficionados. In the Janáček scene her tone is slightly harder but there still a fine bloom to her voice. Sieglinde Großmann is an acceptable Varvara. The sound is quite good for its age. 

Readers wanting an excellent Bartered Bride in German are advised to search out the Kempe set, which is available at budget price. The present set is worth hearing for Goehr’s inspired conducting and Heinz Rehfuss’s reading of the marriage-broker’s role. The bonus tracks are also valuable. 

Göran Forsling


 


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