Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Fidelio - Opera in two Acts [141:03]
Leonore - Sena Jurinac (soprano); Florestan - Jon Vickers (tenor); Rocco - Gottlob Frick (bass); Don Pizarro - Hans Hotter (bass); Marzelline - Elsie Morrison (soprano); Jaquino - John Dobson (tenor); Don Fernando - Forbes Robinson (bass)
Covent Garden Chorus and Orchestra/Otto Klemperer
rec. live, Covent Garden Opera House, London, 7 March 1961
no text or translation included
IDIS 6638-9 [77:47 + 63:16]
I have had great pleasure in listening to the live recordings of Beethoven symphonies conducted by Otto Klemperer and issued by IDIS. Despite poor sound and inadequate notes they show much more clearly than do his studio recordings just how exciting as well as perceptive and wise this conductor was in this music. I could say the same about the present set but here unfortunately my welcome to the reissue has to be much more muted.
The reason is simple. This set has necessarily to be compared with the reissue by Testament (SBT2 1328) of the first performance of this production, which took place on 24 February 1961 with an apparently identical cast. I say this advisedly as IDIS do not credit the singers of two solo prisoners. At the earlier performance they were Joseph Ward and Victor Godfrey. It sounds as though they sang these roles also on 7 March but I cannot be sure of this.
The Testament recording has been justly praised and I can only echo that view. There is a single-mindedness about its projection of the drama which seizes the listener right from the start and a casting which is virtually flawless. At both performances Klemperer interpolates the Overture Leonora No III before the final scene which may well offend you but which can easily be omitted on record.
Most of the virtues of the earlier performance apply also to that given two weeks later. In both versions there are minor slips of the kind you may reasonably expect in a live performance, but there seem to have been more on the later date. The second half of the first Act in particular seems more accident-prone and less focused than before. Both recordings derive from BBC recordings although only the later one was actually broadcast. The audio quality on the two reissues is very different. The Testament version was re-mastered by Paul Bailey and has a warm and full sound which makes the listener very quickly forget its age. By contrast the IDIS version, by Danilo Profumo, is thin and uncomfortable to listen to, with much detail obscured. The difference may well be due to differences in the source material, but whatever the reasons I am in no doubt as to which is superior.
Similar differences appear in relation to presentation. The IDIS set has merely an incomplete cast list and a track list. There is no text or translation and no background essays on the work or on this performance. I regret that there is simply no contest between the sets. The standard of the performance is such that the IDIS could be welcomed with open arms if there were no competition but when the much superior Testament can be had for a relatively small additional outlay that welcome has to be severely reduced.
Out-pointed by the Testament version.