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CD: Crotchet

Johann STRAUSS II (1825 - 1899)
Der Zigeunerbaron (1885)
Herbert Lippert (tenor) - Sándor Barinkay; Pamela Coburn (soprano) - Saffi; Rudolf Schasching (tenor) - Kálmán Zsupán; Julia Hamari (mezzo) - Czipra; Wolfgang Holzmair (baritone) - Graf Homonay; Christiane Oelze (soprano) - Arsena; Elisabeth von Magnus (contralto) - Mirabella; Hans-Jürgen Lazar (tenor) - Ottokar; Jürgen Flimm (bass) - Conte Carnero; Robert Florianschütz (bass) - Pali; Arnold Schönberg Chor, Wiener Symphoniker/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
rec. live, Konzerthaus, Vienna, April 1994
WARNER TELDEC 2564 69125-0 [74:54 + 75:19]
Experience Classicsonline

Harnoncourt’s Fledermaus, though starrily cast and musically absolutely complete, was let down by some quirky tempos and, even more seriously, by the absence of spoken dialogue. It was replaced by the gaoler Frosch appearing at various points - not only in the last act where he belongs - trying to sum up the situation. This fifteen-year-old Zigeunerbaron is equally complete. In fact it contains music that as far as I know had never been recorded before. This time there is also dialogue, adapted by Jürgen Flimm, who also directed and sings and speaks the role of Carnero. Its total playing is 150 minutes as opposed to 120 on the classic Ackermann version from 1954. The big difference has little to do with slow tempos from Harnoncourt and more to do with the completeness of the score. The Ackermann has a minimum of spoken dialogue and several numbers in the published score are either abridged or are missing altogether. Completeness shouldn’t be an end in itself and judicious trimming can heighten the dramatic flow, as it does in the Ackermann. But there is a point in having all the music and it is possible to programme out numbers or sections one feels are superfluous. This time Teldec has provided enough cue-points.

Recorded live at a concert performance in the Vienna Concert Hall the sound cannot be faulted and the singing and acting are no doubt triggered by the presence of an audience. Some responses, especially to amusing things in the dialogue, are heard but there is no applause, which is a blessing, even though I wouldn’t have minded some at the end of acts.

Harnoncourt is audibly inspired by this work, more so than in Fledermaus, where I found him pedestrian and where he chose some impossibly slow tempos. Here the overture is fresh and lively and though not quite so brilliantly put together as the Fledermaus overture it is a wonderful string of pearls. There are in fact very few places where one can question Harnoncourt’s tempos anywhere. The lovely duet We runs getraut? in act II is slow but so it is on the Ackermann set - and it gives the listener time to savour the ravishing melodies. Harnoncourt doesn’t quite achieve Ackermann’s magic and his singers, good though they are, are no match for Gedda and Schwarzkopf. On the other hand Harnoncourt’s force and thrust in the act I finale is overwhelming. The Vienna Symphony play well throughout and The Arnold Schoenberg Choir is as excellent as expected.

The cast is less starry here than on the Fledermaus recording but that is really not as much of a drawback as one would imagine, Zigeunerbaron being more of an ensemble operetta with fewer obvious show-pieces. Herbert Lippert, who recorded a fine Tamino for Naxos at about the same time, is a fresh, lyrical and virile Barinkay, not unlike the young Gedda on the Ackermann. Casting a tenor as the boisterous pig-breeder Zsupán - a role for a bass-baritone like Erich Kunz or a true bass like Kurt Böhme - seems rather weird but Rudolf Schasching acquits himself with aplomb and he relishes every word. Wolfgang Holzmair is best known as one of the foremost Lieder singers of his generation - he was born in 1952 - but he has sung more than forty operatic roles. His Graf Homonay is rather dark and serious, well sung but not as easy-going as Prey on the Ackermann. Jürgen Flimm’s singing voice had passed its ‘best before’ date but he is an expressive and articulate actor nevertheless. As Saffi Pamela Coburn has a rather larger voice than Elisabeth Schwarzkopf but she is nuanced and sings the Gypsy Song (CD 1 tr. 17) with true Hungarian lilt. Christiane Oelze is a lively, lyrical and lovely Arsena and her coloratura is impeccable. Julia Hamari is a fruity Czipra and Elisabeth von Magnus is a hilarious Mirabella (CD 1 tr. 12).

On most accounts this is a competitive Zigeunerbaron and for completeness it is a must for serious collectors. Franz Allers on a 1960s EMI set is an old favourite but even better, though in mono only, is the Ackermann, recorded in 1954. Martin Walker pointed out recently on our Forum that there is also a Decca recording under Clemens Krauss, but without dialogue. As at the time of writing this review I had not heard it.

Göran Forsling


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