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Norbert SCHULTZE (1911-2002)
Schwarzer Peter (1936) [42.41]
Anneliese Rothenberger (soprano) – Erika; Gerhard Unger (tenor) – Roderich; Heinz Hoppe (baritone) – King Hans; Toni Blankenheim (bass) – King Klaus; Hermann Prey (baritone) – Minstrel; Alice Oelke (contralto) – Nurse; Hans-Joachim Kulenkampf – Narrator
RIAS Chamber Choir: Schöneberger Sängerknaben
FFB Orchestra/Norbert Schultze
rec. Berlin Zehlendorf Gemeindehaus, 31 August and 1 September 1964
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 528921 [42.41]

On a number of occasions I have had cause to complain about the cheeseparing presentation of reissues in this ‘Cologne Collection’ series: inadequate or non-existent texts, synopses, or even the most basic information about the often rare works presented. Despite all this Warner Classics have surpassed themselves here. There is only one column in the booklet in English, and that merely advertises the value of the issues in the ‘Cologne Collection’ without one mention of the composer, the work, or the performance. There are two pages in German only which give some further details of the composer and the history of the opera, but not a word about the plot or the music. This is ridiculous in a release which presumably is intended for the international market, and must rule acquisition of this disc totally out of consideration for anyone whose command of German is insufficient to enable them to follow the lyrics and spoken dialogue presented. Even the track-listing - 35 of them, only one over three minutes in duration - give no reference to where the individual items fit into the whole, although given the short duration of the disc I imagine that we are being given only excerpts rather than the whole work. This impression is reinforced by the narration which connects the individual numbers, delivered in a confidential tone close to the microphone. We are not even given the range of the individual featured voices, although they are well enough known.
 
We really do need guidance here, since I can find no reference either to Schultze or this work in my editions of such compendious works of reference as the Viking Guide to Opera or Kurt Gänzl’s Musical Theatre on Record. The recording was presumably issued originally in 1964, but the 1966 edition of the Stereo Record Guide makes no mention of it so I imagine that any release that may have entered the international catalogues would have been very short-lived. The German booklet note informs us that the composer is principally famous as the composer of Lili Marleen and that this children’s opera was first performed in 1936. Wikipedia gives us more information, but the extensive article there is in German only.
 
The idiom of the music is rather in the style of Kurt Weill or Carl Orff, with plenty of work for the narrator to do including some Sprechstimme-style declamation over music. One presumes that the composer obtains the results he wants from his performers, who include some major names although none of them are precisely stretched by what they are asked to do. There are plenty of stage effects, huzzah-ing crowds and the like, but what they are cheering about remains as much of a mystery as the significance of the onomatopoeic words of the songs. Those who like Orff’s Der Mond, for example, will enjoy this opera; but those whose German is not totally fluent will be restricted to treating the music as a genial sort of background, among which Hermann Prey’s delivery of his lullaby (track 7) has a melodic charm which positively reeks of Lehár, although it is only just over two minutes long. The recording places the voices very far forward, although the orchestra remains well in the picture.
 
This sort of presentation of an obscure work, however, is not good enough. If Warner were to make a text and translation — or at the very least a synopsis — available online, it would at least be something. Otherwise I am afraid this reissue fails to match up to the claims of historic importance made for the ‘Cologne Classics’ series.
 
Paul Corfield Godfrey