Engelbert HUMPERDINCK (1854 – 1921)
Hänsel und Gretel – opera in three acts (1893)
Hänsel: Gisela Litz (mezzo)
Gretel: Rita Streich (soprano)
Witch: Res Fischer
Mother: Marianne Schech
Father: Horst Gunter (baritone)
Sandman: Elisabeth Lindermeier (soprano)
Dew Fairy: Bruno Brückmann (treble)
Knabenchor des Wittelsbacher Gymnasiums München
Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks
Münchner Philharmoniker/Fritz Lehmann
rec. October 1953, Residenz, Herkulessaal, Munich
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 94207 [57:23 + 41:10]

Poor recording quality is the flaw least tolerated by an opera such as this, dependent upon a fairy-tale atmosphere. Unfortunately the 1953 processed mono sound on this reissue is dull and spongy. However, I suspect that the general air of “flatness” about this recording it is not just the result of the recorded sound; this is a dutiful, faithful account which manages almost completely to eschew any sense of magic. The one notable exception to this is Rita Streich’s charming, sweetly vocalised Gretel, yet even she seems hardly inspired when it comes to acting – perhaps not surprising given that she is paired with the rather matronly mezzo-soprano Hänsel of Gisela Litz. Neither of the singers playing the parents is especially characterful or distinguished compared with their counterparts on competitive sets and although I am quite taken by Res Fischer’s unexaggerated but convincing Witch, she hardly takes the part by the scruff of the neck the way Elisabeth Söderström does for Pritchard or, best of all, Christa Ludwig for Eichhorn; both are far more sinister (whereas Schlemm for Solti is rather hammy). Elisabeth Lindermeier’s Sandman is prettily sung with a tone somewhat reminiscent of a young Kiri Te Kanawa and while I concede that casting a boy to sing the Dew Fairy is perfectly legitimate, I still prefer a more ethereal voice than Bruno Brückmann’s slightly gusty treble.

The Wagnerian heft of the Witches’ Ride and the Dream Pantomime doesn’t really come across under Fritz Lehmann’s literal direction and it’s hard to detect much change in mood or ambience when we enter the dark forest. The key moment when the witch is shoved into her own oven is lively but hardly climactic.

With so many satisfying alternative versions available I cannot in all conscience recommend this one, despite its bargain price – unless you are a Rita Streich completist. My personal favourite is the 1978 set conducted by Pritchard with the dream pairing of Cotrubas and Von Stade, closely followed by Solti’s recording with Popp and Fassbaender as sister and brother – also made in 1978. If you want a bargain, you could do far worse than the 1971 Eichhorn set with Helen Donath and Anna Moffo as delightful siblings; all three are preferable to this dull re-issue and all are by and large far better sung and played.

Ralph Moore

A dull re-issue.