I reviewed this Dido very recently in a transfer on Naxos
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
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.
see also review
by Goran Forsling