Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 - 1791)
Die Zauberflöte (1791)
Helge Roswaenge (tenor) - Tamino; Tiana Lemnitz (soprano) - Pamina; Gerhard Hüsch (baritone) - Papageno; Irma Beilke (soprano) - Papagena; Old Woman; First Boy; Wilhelm Strienz (bass) - Sarastro; Erna Berger (soprano) - Queen of the Night; Heinrich Tessmer (tenor) - Monostatos; First Man in Armour; Hilde Scheppan (soprano) - First Lady; Elfriede Marherr (soprano) - Second Lady; Rut Berglund (contralto) - Thitd Lady; Third Boy; Carla Spletter (soprano) - Second Boy; Walter Grossman (bass) - Speaker; Ernst Fabbry (tenor) - Priest;
Favres Solisten Vereinigung; Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham
rec. Beethovensaal, Berlin, 8-10, 12, 13, 15 November 1937; 24 February, 2, 8 March 1938
PRISTINE AUDIO PACO 045 [61:30 + 69:26]
We have come to expect impressive sound from Andrew Rose’s XR re-mastering and he has ensured both clarity and dynamic power. I haven’t listened to this set for quite some time - not since the LP era in fact although I have heard some re-mastered excerpts, but I wasn’t prepared for such ‘modern’ sound. Without knowing the origin I would have guessed it was a good mono recording from the 1950s. So on these grounds alone this set can be heartily recommended to all lovers of Die Zauberflöte. Keep in mind, though, that it was recorded without the spoken dialogue. This means that the individual numbers come in quick succession, very much as they wound do on a highlights disc.
What I had forgotten was the weightiness of Beecham’s reading. The powerful first chord rings out with almost Wagnerian solemnity and this is an impression that prevails throughout the overture. Even the quick second half has more dramatic weight than Singspiel jollity.
This impression is reinforced when we are confronted with Helge Roswaenge’s Tamino. Roswaenge was known more for his brilliant top notes and dramatic heft than lyrical flexibility and elegance. Here one associates the results more readily with Wagnerian effortfulness than Mozartean warmth. He is closer in approach to Siegfried than to Tamino. I must qualify this verdict to some extent. In Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön he is more nuanced and actually quite lovable. Maybe he was inspired by Gerhard Hüsch’s famous reading of Papageno and his interpretation of Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja, which was heard just before the Tamino aria. Listening closely to Hüsch I have to admit that there are baritones from more modern times who have imbued the aria with greater spirit and/or elegance. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Walter Berry are two singers who, in their contrasting ways, have come closer to the character. Hüsch feels ‘every-day-penny-plain’. He is much better later on in the opera and in particular in Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen, where his Lieder singer experience and care for words is a great asset. And the suicide scene is deeply moving.
Erna Berger was also a quite successful Lieder singer towards the end of her career in the 1950s. I still treasure a couple of Deutsche Grammophon LPs with her. More than fifteen years before that she was a brilliant Queen of the Night. In her first aria she also displays a warmth that makes ‘die sternflammende Königin’ more human. Her runs are occasionally smudged and a couple of her top notes are slightly out of pitch. This is however a worthy reading of this exacting aria and Der Hölle Rache in the second act is sung with awesome accuracy.
Tiana Lemnitz is a lovely Pamina, some scooping apart. The duet with PapagenoBei Männern is one of the highlights of the recording and her aria Ach, ich fühl’s is lovely and sensitive. Wilhelm Strientz is a lightweight Sarastro but sings with great warmth and has the required low notes. Both his arias are good. His legato in In diesen heil’gen Hallen is admirable - and so is his diction. Walter Grossmann is a warm and fatherly Speaker and in the musically remarkable confrontation scene between him and Tamino, Roswaenge is at his most heroic with biting defiance. Heinrich Tessmer is a splendid Monostatos.
I find that Pamina and Tamino are a curiously mismatched couple - especially in the Der, welche wandelt scene: she delightful as a lily, he knotty as an oak-tree.
In spite of some misgivings this is still a desirable recording. When it was new, more than seventy years ago, it must have been a revelation to many. Berger, Lemnitz and Hüsch can stand comparison with some of the best singers on modern sets and most of the others are more than acceptable.
For a comparable modern recording without spoken dialogue, Klemperer is a first recommendation with Gundula Janowith (Pamina), Lucia Popp (Queen of the Night) in her first recording, Nicolai Gedda (Tamino), Walter Berry (Papageno) and Gottlob Frick (Sarastro). Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Christa Ludwig are luxury casting as First and Second Ladies. For complete recordings with dialogue Karl Böhm’s DG set, roughly contemporaneous with Klemperer, is still my favourite: Fritz Wunderlich (Tamino), Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (Papageno), Franz Crass (Sarastro) and Hans Hotter (Speaker) are top contenders. Evelyn Lear (Pamina) and Roberta Peters (Queen of the Night) are not quite in their league. I also have a soft spot for the Wolfgang Sawallisch version. With remarkably refurbished sound this Beecham set should find an honoured place as an historic alternative in many a collection.
This Beecham set should find an honoured place as an historic alternative in many a collection.