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Léon JESSEL (1871-1942)
Schwarzwaldmädel (The Girl from the Black Forest) [61:58]
Blasius Römer – Benno Kusche (baritone); Bärbele – Brigitte Lindner (soprano); Hans – Adolf Dallapozza (tenor); Malwine von Hainau – Dagmar Koller (soprano); Richard – Martin Finke (tenor); Hannele/Lorle – Renate Fack (soprano); Schmusheim/Theobald/Jürgen – Klaus Hirte (baritone)
Members of Stuttgarter Liederkranz
Stuttgart Philharmonic Orchestra/Willy Mattes
rec. 21-24 June 1976, Philharmonie, Stuttgart
no text or translation included
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 628922 [61:58]

For those of my generation, the name of Léon Jessel is likely immediately to make them think of The Parade of the Tin Soldiers which was used as the music for the children’s radio series Larry the Lamb. His greatest success, however, was the operetta Schwarzwaldmädel, first performed in Berlin in August 1917. It continued to be popular in German-speaking countries until the rise of the Nazis meant that the music of a Jewish composer was banned but it has never become really popular elsewhere.
 
The plot is complex, and it would have been helpful if a more detailed synopsis had been included in the brief notes. In sum, it concerns two young men from Berlin who visit the Black Forest disguised as wandering musicians, and their host, an elderly organist in love with his maid. I have not seen it live, but the detailed synopsis given in Mark Lubbock’s Complete Book of Light Opera suggests the plot as being interesting, believable and perhaps even touching. When allied to the varied music, full of waltzes, fashionable rhythms of 1917, and pastiche folksy items, the result would seem likely to be irresistible on stage. Perhaps I am optimistic, but having heard this disc I am more than prepared to give it the benefit of the doubt and to look forward to that experience.
 
The performers appear to be wholly aware of the idiom of the work and how to put it across. Adolf Dallapozza and Benno Kusche both make a big impression, the latter right from the start in a song on St Cecilia’s Eve, very different to the Wagner I had previously associated with him. The rest of the cast sound above all idiomatic in the music – not surprising when you see the pictures in the booklet of them in costume suggesting that these are roles they know well.
 
My only possible criticism of the performance is that the overall result does not resemble the kind of sound I would have expected from a theatre orchestra of the period. I note however from the booklet that the original orchestration is used. It may be, therefore, that the often rather overblown sound of the orchestra is due instead to a combination of the recording and the number of strings used, or it may be that the original theatre and theatre orchestra were larger than I had expected.
 
A clearer defect is the lack of text, translation or adequate synopsis which makes it difficult for those new to the work to understand what is happening for much of the time. The energy and charm of the music is nonetheless obvious even then, and it would be a pity if this lack were to put off anyone interested in the work or simply in light opera of the period. This was a real discovery to me as I am sure it will be to many others.
 
John Sheppard