As far as most opera-houses and listeners are concerned, Engelbert Humperdinck is very much a one work man … and the wider public is probably more likely to associate the name with a singer rather than a composer. Given that many very good composers do not even have one well known work this might be seen as not unreasonable, but whenever the chance does come to hear more of his work I have always enjoyed it. Enjoyment is indeed very much the right word. Nothing on this disc is startlingly original and there are many echoes, some deliberate, of other works, but the sheer companionability of the music, together with its craftsmanship and humanity, make it very worthwhile hearing.
It is a pity that space had to be given to the Overture from Hänsel und Gretel
which anyone likely to be interested in purchasing the disc will probably have already. Nonetheless in an affectionate performance such as this it does show straightaway why it is that the composer is worth investigating further. Of the works on the rest of the disc Königskinder
is the only one likely to be familiar, and even then more on disc than in the opera-house. Admittedly it suffers from a pretentious libretto but the music is glorious and the excerpts heard here are likely to encourage exploration of the complete work. Similarly with Der Blaue Vogel
– incidental music to a play by Maeterlinck – and Dornröschen
– another version of the story of the sleeping beauty.
The Wagnerian echoes so familiar from Hänsel und Gretel
are present in all of these works, but so also are some of Richard Strauss, Tchaikovsky and, more a pre-echo, Korngold. I am not sure that it is possible to recognise something distinctive in all of Humperdinck’s music, and not everything here is all that memorable, but I come back to the word companionable about its character. If you enjoy Hänsel und Gretel
there is a good chance that you will enjoy the rest of this disc. It is well played and the recording is generally satisfactory. It is a pity that the remaining space on it could not be used for the delightful and unfairly neglected Suite from The Miracle
, a spectacular play by Max Reinhardt which was presented at Olympia in London in 1911. Nonetheless what we do have is very enjoyable and it is a pity that the listener tempted by it to explore further will find little in the current catalogues apart from Königskinder
and the inevitable Hänsel und Gretel