Engelbert HUMPERDINCK (1854-1921) Hänsel und Gretel Fairy Tale in Three Acts [96:22]; Weihnachten (arr Sir Charles Mackerras) [3:05]; Die Königskinder – Verdorben! Gestorben! [6:53]; Trad arr Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897) Sandmännchen [2:48]; Albert LORTZING (1801-1851) Zar und Zimmermann – Sonst spielt ich mit szepter [3:44]; Der Wildschütz – Wie freundlich strahlt .. Heiterkeit und Fröhlichkeit [4:44]; Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897-1957) Die Tote Stadt – Mein sehnen, mein wähnen [3:50]; Hans PFITZNER (1869-1949) Das Käthchen von Heilbronn – Overture [13:02]; Richard WAGNER (1813-1833) Rienzi – Overture [11:19]
Gretel – Rita Streich (soprano); Hänsel – Gisela Litz (mezzo); Gertrud – Marianne Schech (soprano); Peter – Horst Günter (baritone); Sandman – Elisabeth Lindermeier (soprano); Dew Fairy – Bruno Brückmann (boy soprano); Witch – Res Fischer (mezzo)
Bavarian Radio Choir; Munich Philharmonic Orchestra/Fritz Lehmann): [songs] Elizabeth Schwarzkopf (soprano); Choir and Philharmonia Orchestra/Sir Charles Mackerras: [arias] Hermann Prey (baritone); Bielfelder Kinderchor; North German Radio Orchestra/Wilhelm Schüchter; [Pfitzner] Bamberg Symphony Orchestra/Fritz Lehmann; [Wagner] Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Fritz Lehmann
rec. [Hansel] Munich, 2-10 October 1953, [songs] London, 1 June 1957, [arias] Berlin 1954, [Pfitzner] Bamberg, 11 February 1952, [Wagner] Munich, 5-6 October 1954: no text or translations included
MAGDALEN METCD 8003 [71:38+74:37]

There is no lack of recordings of Hänsel und Gretel in the catalogue, most of them more recent than this and most avoiding the excessively close balance of the voices that we find here. Nonetheless this remains a set well worth considering for its wonderfully idiomatic and wholly natural and uncomplicated approach. It is not unsubtle but it avoids any sense of artificiality or point-making, both of which are wholly foreign to this delightful work. Tempi are flexible and what we hear of the orchestra, well balanced within itself, is very characterful. The singers adopt a similar approach, especially Rita Streich, on top of her form, and Gisela Litz’s very convincingly boyish Hänsel. The parents are less interesting – boring even at times, but Res Fischer’s witch is near ideal, never camp or exaggerated. I am not sure about using a boy soprano as the Dew Fairy but it works well enough. Overall this remains a fine issue of the work, one which personally I prefer even over the much praised version under Karajan with Elizabeth Schwarzkopf and Elizabeth Grummer, beautifully executed as it is. For me it tells the story in such an idiomatic and engaging way as to be wholly irresistible despite the obvious age of the recording.

It has been reissued before, most recently by Brilliant, but one of the real attractions of this issue is the fascinating quantity and quality of extras for which room has been found. The two Schwarzkopf songs are pleasant and worth hearing, but the real highlights are the arias sung by Hermann Prey. These include the lovely closing scene from Humperdinck’s Die Königskinder, complete with the necessary children’s chorus, and two excellent arias by Lortzing. The Overtures by Pfitzner and Wagner again show Lehmann at his best, this time with no forwardly balanced singers to hide his efforts. For anyone with a taste for nineteenth century German opera this is a set well worth considering, as much for the extras as for the main work. A pity that there are no texts or translations, but at least the lengthy notes include a good synopsis of Hänsel und Gretel and a clear explanation of the context of the various arias as well as interesting biographies of the singers.

John Sheppard

A set well worth considering, as much for the extras as for the main work.