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Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
Dido and Aeneas (1689)
Kirsten Flagstad (soprano) – Dido
Thomas Hemsley (baritone) – Aeneas
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (soprano) – Belinda, Second Lady, Attendant Spirit
Arda Mandikian (mezzo) – Sorceress
Sheila Rex (soprano) – First Witch
Anna Pollak (soprano) - Second Witch
Eilidh McNab (soprano) - First Lady
David Lloyd (tenor) – Sailor
The Mermaid Singers and Orchestra/Geraint Jones
rec. Abbey Road Studio No.1, London, March 1952
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Götterdämmerung (1869-1874) - Act III Scene 3 – Brünnhilde’s Immolation [19:48]
Kirsten Flagstad (soprano)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Wilhelm Furtwängler
rec. London, 1948

Experience Classicsonline

I reviewed this Dido very recently in a transfer on Naxos Historical 8.111264 so must reprise things here, at least for the majority of the time.

One thing Walter Legge got completely wrong in this recording was having Schwarzkopf sing the Second Lady. So distinctive is she and so silly is it to have her take Act II’s Oft she visits this lone mountain immediately after she’s just taken Belinda’s Thanks to these lonesome vales that I wonder how he could have listened to it in playback and thought it acceptable. It’s a miscalculation that fortunately doesn’t go much beyond the local but is symptomatic of his casual over-confidence and lack of experience in this kind of repertoire.

Having started in media res with a kicking let’s admire the many good things in this, the third commercial recording of Dido and Aeneas after those by Clarence Raybould in 1936 - not transferred as yet to CD, but it should be - and, after the war, Constant Lambert. Forget whether she was paid for her labours in good English stout – surely not – Flagstad acquits herself with powerful, occasionally over-dramatised, but ultimately revealingly moving strength. She does attack from under the note – you can hear the scooping as early as Ah! Belinda I am pressed but she never loses her regal dignity and her impersonation is on its own terms tremendously impressive. Schwarzkopf can be a rather stentorian Belinda and often sounds too sophisticated – a common enough allegation but it must be faced here.

The Sorceress, Greek mezzo Arda Mandikian, proves to have a nice line in acidic spite though she never over-acts; her Act II Scene I Wayward Sisters, you that fright is first class and her companions take their lead from her - Sheila Rex and Anna Pollak strike just the right note, literally. Thomas Hemsley is a manly Aeneas – he’s a sporty type not like some of the English bank managers who have essayed the role – and I believed in him

Choral echo effects (Act II Scene II) are well judged and the orchestra plays very well for Geraint Jones. The men’s chorus lets itself down though in Act I’s Fear no more danger to ensue – they are very unfocused and flabby.

As for the transfers the Naxos is very much more open. It accentuates the slight vocal edge on the female voices in particular but it does preserve their timbres rather better as well. There is also more room ambience. Nimbus’s restoration has resulted in a rather veiled quality, too topped for my liking, though it does ‘centre’ the voices and makes things rather more obviously warmer. It’s by no means an unattractive piece of work and some may prefer its – dread word – mellowness. I will stick with the Naxos for the reasons cited.

I also prefer their coupling which is a more appropriate one, containing Bach and Handel items as well as Flagstad’s 1948 When I Am Laid In Earth with Warwick Braithwaite. Nimbus gives us another dying woman - the incendiary but surely far too well known Brünnhilde’s Immolation scene with the Philharmonia and Furtwängler.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Goran Forsling



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