I’m completely at a loss to understand why this compilation
has been released as a Blu-Ray disc as well as on DVD. As can be seen,
the programme doesn’t even begin to utilise the full capacity
of a disc. Furthermore, the recordings are so elderly that the Blu-Ray
format can’t really deliver any significant enhancements. So,
if you want this anthology I can’t advise you to incur the additional
expense over and above the cost of the DVD issue unless you absolutely
have to have the Blu-Ray format. All of which leads on to the question:
how desirable is the compilation in the first place?
Well, there are attractions. Here are some of the last century’s
great Strauss voices. However, in most cases they’re not heard
- or seen - to best advantage. We get only a tantalising glimpse of
Rita Streich and the camera work is so basic that there’s just
a fixed shot of her until the very last bars when a different camera
angle actually reveals to us that Janine Reiss was physically present.
Much of Seefried’s contribution is disappointing. I don’t
think that the sound flatters her voice – in Morgen
the tone is, frankly, plain. I didn’t much care for her performance
of this song or of Wiegenlied. Matters improve thereafter
and Traum durch die Dämmerung is sung with some feeling
and both singer and orchestra are animated and light of tone in Ständchen.
However, overall I don’t think these performances do anything
for this fine artist’s reputation.
The Schwarzkopf contributions are variable too. The two songs with
Gerald Moore are the only items shot in colour. In Morgen
for no good reason that I can see the performers are placed “artistically”
at opposite ends of the set – which looks like someone’s
idea of a chamber in a castle. Miss Schwarzkopf then stands next to
the piano for Mein Vater hat gesagt - and proceeds to deliver
it in an insufferably arch fashion. The singer is not too well served
in the orchestral songs where Berislav Klobukar leads an unnamed orchestra
in rather plodding accompaniments. Mind you, their cause is not helped
at all by the recording: the orchestral sound is recessed and opaque.
The camerawork is terribly static and old-fashioned – we watch
one song almost entirely over Schwarzkopf’s right shoulder.
It’s really only in Zueignung and Waldseligkeit
that we hear at something approaching her best.
The programme is redeemed by the excerpt from Der Rosenkavalier.
This is the extended scene between the Marschallin and Octavian with
which Act I concludes, though so superficial is the accompanying documentation
that we’re not even told from where in the opera the excerpt
is taken. I don’t know if this excerpt is taken from a fuller
broadcast of the opera: I suspect it might be, Mackerras conducts
very well and Hertha Töpper is a convincing, impetuous Octavian.
But it’s Schwarzkopf who steals the show. She’s very believable
as the Marschallin, conscious of the advancing years and sufficiently
worldly wise and realistic to know that sooner or later Octavian will
trade her in for a younger model. Her acting is as impressive as her
singing and nowhere more so than in the passage that begins ‘Die
Zeit, die ist ein sonderbar Ding’. Even though this is in black
and white and the production is very much of its time if this excerpt
is part of a longer BBC broadcast I think it would be worth issuing.
The English subtitles here and throughout the programme are good.
Despite the eminence of the singers concerned I’m afraid I can’t
work up much enthusiasm for this release which, frankly, seems misguided
to me. Strauss and his lifelong love affair with the soprano voice
are well worth celebrating but there are far better ways to do so
Schlechtes Wetter, Op. 69/5 [2:01]
Rita Streich (soprano); Janine Reiss (piano)
Broadcast 7 March, 1965
Morgen, Op 27/4* [3:53]
Mein Vater hat gesagt, Op. 36/3* [2:27]
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (soprano); Gerald Moore (piano)
Broadcast 22 March, 1970
Ruhe, meine Seele, Op. 27/1 [3:48]
Meinem Kinde, Op. 37/3 [2:59]
Muttertänderlei, Op. 43/2 [2:43]
Zueignung, Op 10/1 [2:48]
Waldseligkeit, Op. 49/1 [2:57]
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (soprano); orchestra/Berislav Klobukar
Filmed 1967, Salle Pleyel, Paris
Kann mich auch an ein Mädel erinnern (Der Rosenkavalier,
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (soprano); Hertha Töpper (mezzo); Philharmonia
Morgen, Op 27/4 [3:17]
Wiegenlied, Op. 41/1 [3:10]
Traum durch die Dämmerung, Op. 29/1 [2:52]
Zueignung, Op 10/1 [2:04]
Ständchen, Op. 17/2 [2:25]
Irmgard Seefried (soprano); Orchestre National de l’ORTF/Piero