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Gundula Janowitz in Concert
George Frederic HANDEL (1685-1759)
Giulio Cesare: Overture [5:00]; Da tempeste il legno infranto [8:08]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Don Giovanni: Crudele?... Non mi dir [7:23]
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Der Freischütz: Wie nahte mir der Schlummer… Leise, leise [8:18]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
I Vespri Siciliani: Overture [8:27]
Attila: Santo di Patria… Allor che i forti [6:37]
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Tosca: Vissi d’arte [3:30]
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Tannhauser: Dich, teure halle [6:14]
Gundula Janowitz (soprano)
Graz Philharmonic Orchestra/Berislav Klobucar
rec. live, in concert, Stefaniensaal, Graz, 1970
Region Code 0, Aspect Ration 4:3, Mono only
VAI 4458

 

Experience Classicsonline


 

I respond infinitely more positively to this 1970 concert recital than my fellow MusicWeb reviewer Simon Thompson. His verdict, in November 2008, was that the DVD “captures Janowitz towards the end of her prime” and that it is “not particularly attractive or engaging … and its main value is historical.”

I could not disagree more, though I grant that there is little point either in buying or watching this concert unless you actually respond to Janowitz’s voice and art - and taste in sopranos is notoriously subjective. This DVD is apparently one of a series named “Zauber der Stimme”, and, for me, Janowitz does indeed provide magic.

The concert, filmed for Austrian television, was clearly something of a homecoming for her, as she studied at the Graz Conservatory and was, by this date, an established international star. Although the recital is short by most standards, her selection of arias is cunningly programmed. It moves chronologically from Baroque, through Romantic, to verismo, in order to demonstrate her versatility. Primarily renowned for her Mozart and Strauss roles, she does indeed sing Donna Anna’s “Non mi dir” from “Don Giovanni”. Otherwise, she selects no Strauss but rather five other seminal operatic composers: Handel, Weber, Verdi, Puccini and Wagner. When you think about it, that’s quite some span, especially when she sings the arias as well as this.

The sound, although mono, is better in quality than the grainy black and white picture - but it is perfectly watchable. Three cameras provide unfussy coverage and while Janowitz is not the most animated of stage animals, I would far sooner watch her than the stuffy audience. They seem barely to respond to her singing – not necessarily her fault, I think. She is restrained in her demeanour and the only things which smack of the diva are the big hair and the sequined kaftan. It is clear that her voice easily fills the Stefaniensaal, even if her lower register was never the most refulgent. She seems to be enjoying herself; certainly she makes singing look effortless and her technique allows her to do pretty much everything she wants throughout the demanding programme. For example, she copes easily with both the coloratura and the heft required for the Verdi item. Those familiar with the live recording of her Elisabetta in “Don Carlos”, performed with Corelli in Vienna in the same year, will be less surprised by her facility in Verdi. Like all good singers, she does not need to “mouth” the notes, opening wide only to hit those glittering top Bs and B flats. She even opens Odabella’s aria with a good top C but it’s not exactly comfortable, whereas the concluding B flat is a corker. I agree with Mr Thompson that the “Freischütz” aria finds her at her best. She delivers a rapt performance, her creamy tone and seamless legato capturing perfectly first Agathe’s dreamy lullaby and then the ecstasy of her love, when Janowitz sparkles. I readily admit that I value her beauty of sound above her powers of characterisation, but I do not necessarily mean that she fails to differentiate between her heroines: Odabella is a real spitfire. Her Tosca has a bell-like purity, conveying a vulnerability and innocence which makes a refreshing change and the concluding B flat is charged with passion. She acquires a glint in the eye for the rapturous Tannhäuser aria – everything works. If I am going to carp, I would say that I could wish her diction were sharper, especially in Italian, but for the most part I found myself swept along by her singing.

Berislav Klobucar and the Graz Philharmonic provide unobtrusive, expert support and play two overtures most agreeably, the Handel being in the old-fashioned, but still enjoyable, style.

“Welch schöne Nacht” indeed. She sounds as if she could sing all night, too, and frankly I’d be willing to stay up all night to hear her.

 

Ralph Moore

 see also review by Simon Thompson

 


 


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