Engelbert HUMPERDINCK (1854 - 1921)
Hänsel und Gretel (1893)
Alice Coote (mezzo) - Hansel; Lydia Teuscher (soprano) -Gretel; Irmgard Vilsmaier (soprano) - Mother; William Dazeley (baritone) - Father; Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke (tenor) - Witch; Tara Erraught (mezzo) - Sandman; Ida Falk Winland (soprano) - Dew Fairy; London Philharmonic Orchestra/Robin Ticciati
rec. live, Glyndebourne Opera House, Lewes, England, July and August 2010
Full texts with English translation enclosed.
GLYNDEBOURNE GFOCD 015-10 [58:37 + 41:57]
Though Humperdinck composed a number of operas little besides Hänsel und Gretel is performed today, even though Königskinder seems to pop up now and then. Not long ago I reviewed his Dornröschen. It isn’t a real opera, more a Singspiel with a lot of spoken dialogue, but there is some beautiful music. For the ‘real’ Humperdinck one has to go to Hänsel und Gretel, which has stayed in the repertoire of many opera houses and not only in the German-speaking countries. Stockholm Opera mounted it some five years ago and here is the Glyndebourne production from 2010, which was also presented concertante at the Proms the same year.
Judging from what I hear on these discs this should have been a splendid performance, though it seems possible, from the many colour photos from the production, that a few things could have been questionable. The Witch, impersonated by Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke seems to me a bit over the top. Since it is a CD issue I review what I hear, and that is in many ways very good indeed.
Let me first have a look at previous versions. In the early 1950s there were two mono recordings, one for DG conducted by Fritz Lehmann with Rita Streich as Gretel and a Columbia set under Herbert von Karajan, featuring Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Elisabeth Grümmer. The latter version is widely regarded as one of the great opera recordings. Among stereo sets Eurodisc (later RCA) presented the work under the direction of Kurt Eichhorn with Anna Moffo and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau among the soloists, East-German VEB recorded a very Wagnerian version under Otmar Suitner back in 1969 with Theo Adam as the Father and Peter Schreier as possibly the most formidable Witch (review). There was also a very good CBS set (later Sony) under John Pritchard, with Ileana Cotrubas and Frederica von Stade as possibly the loveliest children on any version and with Elisabeth Söderström’s unforgettable Witch. The drawback is that the conducting is too laid-back; it’s beautiful but slightly lifeless. Solti (with Popp and Fassbaender) on Decca and Colin Davis (with Gruberova and Ann Murray) on Philips (now Decca) are also attractive propositions. Finally there’s Charles Mackerras on Chandos with Jennifer Larmore and Rebecca Evans as the children. It is sung in English, which probably rules it out for some readers, but it is so lovingly conducted with perfectly judged tempos. The singing could hardly be bettered.
Where does Robin Ticciati stand in this field? Maybe not at pole position but he still has a chance to be a front-runner. To begin with he has the London Philharmonic in top shape at his disposal and thus the purely orchestral music sounds marvellous: the overture, the Witch’s Ride, the Dream Pantomime and the prelude to act 3. His tempos are very close to Mackerras’s and that seems to me as close to the ideal as possible. The recording is excellent, catching some stage noises no doubt, but seldom sufficient to irritate. The balance between stage and pit is also well judged. As for the singing, Alice Coote and Lydia Teuscher are good but a bit anonymous, compared to Schwarzkopf and Grümmer on the Karajan set or Cotrubas and von Stade for Pritchard. He also has Christa Ludwig as an imposing mother but Irmgard Vilsmaier, whom I heard as a good Isolde some years ago, also gets under the skin of her character. William Dazeley’s Father is lively but a bit wayward at times. Here Suitner’s Theo Adam, almost Wotan like, is hard to beat, unless it be Pritchard’s Siegmund Nimsgern, darker and more youthful than most. Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke is almost in the Schreier division and his laughter is terrifying. Tara Erraught’s Sandman is delightful while Ida Falk Winland’s vibrato is a little too prominent for such a morning fresh little thing as the Dew Fairy.
The final verdict? If a sixty-year-old mono recording is OK then the Karajan-Schwarzkopf-Grümmer set is still the one to have. Otherwise my vote goes to the Pritchard set, in spite of it being a bit underpowered. If an English version is no problem, Mackerras is a safe choice. Ticciati holds his own in this company, however, and readers who missed the Glyndebourne production live will certainly not regret a purchase.
Ticciati holds his own in illustrious company. If you missed the Glyndebourne production you will certainly not regret this purchase.