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Henry PURCELL (1659 – 1695)
Dido and Aeneas (1689)
Kirsten Flagstad (soprano) – Dido; Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (soprano) – Belinda; Spirit; Second Lady; Thomas Hemsley (baritone) – Aeneas; Arda Mandikian (mezzo) – Sorceress; David Lloyd (tenor) – Sailor; Eilidh McNab (soprano) – First Lady; Sheila Rex (soprano) – First Witch; Anna Pollak (mezzo) – Second Witch
The Mermaid Singers and Orchestra/Geraint Jones
rec. 15, 27-28 March 1952, EMI Abbey Road Studio No. 1, London, UK
English libretto enclosed
Richard WAGNER (1813 – 1883)
Götterdämmerung: Starke Scheite (Brünnhilde’s Immolation) [19:48]
Kirsten Flagstad (soprano)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Wilhelm Furtwängler
rec. 26 March 1948
NIMBUS PRIMA VOCE NI 7956 [76:35]

Experience Classicsonline


Decca’s 1956 recording of Alceste (see review) deployed Geraint Jones and his forces -  then known as the Geraint Jones Singers and Orchestra. Some four years earlier they were entrusted with the Flagstad’s Dido. For its day their playing was first-class, though heard with the authentic movement in mind the music-making sounds hopelessly dated. The first part of the prelude is highly romantic and even though the fast second half has a certain baroque lilt it is hardly as crisp as what we hear from today’s baroque specialists. But the recording should be judged by the performance style of kits day some sixty years ago. Numerous positive features can be reported. This was not the first complete Dido and Aeneas. In HMV’s catalogue there was a recording with the Philharmonia Orchestra under Constant Lambert. Joan Hammond, Dennis Noble and Isobel Baillie were the principals. Since the orchestra was founded in 1945 it was still a fairly modern recording so there must have been other reasons to re-record it so soon. I have never heard the Lambert version but it is possible that Geraint Jones’ relatively small forces were deemed more authentic. Be that as it may the playing of the Mermaid Orchestra is excellent. The Mermaid Singers’ precision and clean attack is admirable and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf’ as not only Belinda but also the Spirit and the Second Lady was inspired casting. Her English isn’t the best but her singing is. Kirsten Flagstad (1895–1962) as Dido has on the other hand excellent English and her singing is technically better here than on the Gluck set. There her scooping became rather irritating. There are traces of it here but only marginally so. She is also surprisingly apt at florid singing. Not that there is very much but there is none of the clumsiness of heavy sopranos essaying florid roles. Her actual tone is far less hooty than it had become in 1956. She is also a very involved Dido and her lament is deeply felt. There is a special warmth in her utterances that is very appealing.

Thomas Hemsley had made his debut at the Mermaid Theatre in September the previous year as Aeneas opposite Flagstad’s Dido. So this is also from that perspective an historic issue. His is a stylish and youthful reading of the role. Arda Mandikian is a menacing Sorceress, dark and intense, maybe over-aggressive at times and David Lloyd is a fine Sailor. I was quickly drawn into the proceedings and once having adjusted to the style of the performance it was easy to like it. At any rate it is a privilege to have the great Kirsten Flagstad in the role. She had recorded Dido’s lament some years earlier (HMV DB 6913) but to have the full role preserved is truly great. The only other recording of this opera with a comparable soprano is probably the Philips set with Jessye Norman.

As a bonus we are offered Brünnhilde’s immolation from Götterdämmerung in the famous recording with Furtwängler. Varnay and Nilsson but few others could be mentioned in the same breath as Flagstad in this repertoire. The question is whether Flagstad isn’t a notch or two in front of the others. The recording has been issued on a number of occasions but this should certainly be in every decent collection. The sound on the Wagner as well as the Purcell is excellent for its day.

True Purcell friends need a more historically correct recording but even die-hard purists should find a lot to admire in this historic issue.

Göran Forsling

 


  See also review by Jonathan Woolf


 

 

 

 

 


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