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Martha Mödl (soprano/mezzo-soprano) - The Queen of Drama in Opera
Sena Jurinac, Astrid Varnay, Lorenz Fehenberger, Max Lorenz, Peter Pears, Rudolf Schock, Ludwig Suthaus, Ramon Vinay, Wolfgang Windgassen, Ferdinand Frantz, Hans Hotter, Josef Metternich, Hermann Uhde, Josef Greindl, Ludwig Weber and others
various orchestras/Fritz Busch, Karl Böhm, Wuilhelm Furtwängler, Herbert von Karajan, Josef Keilberth, Hans Knappertsbusch, Clemens Krauss, Artur Rother, Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt, Igor Stravinsky and others
rec. 1950-1958
DOCUMENTS 600188 [10 CDs: 719:05]

Martha Mödl (1912–2001) is generally regarded as one of the three most important dramatic sopranos during the second part of the 20th century – the other two being Astrid Varnay and Birgit Nilsson. All three can actually be heard together in the same performance of Die Walküre at Bayreuth in 1954, where Mödl sang her only Sieglinde, Varnay was Brünnhilde and Nilsson was Ortlinde (CD 8 tr. 5).

Martha Mödl’s soubriquet The Queen of Drama in Opera is certainly justified. All accounts of her abilities point in the same direction: she was a supreme actress and even when her singing voice failed her towards the end of her career, her acting was still superb. She was a late starter and didn’t begin taking singing lessons until she was 28. She made her debut in 1942, aged thirty. Her great decade was the 1950s, when she sang almost every summer at Bayreuth and this compilation covers just that period. She didn’t make many studio recordings – Fidelio and Die Walküre with Furtwängler and also Parsifal with Knappertsbusch in 1951, the first season after the reopening of the festival after the war. This was a live recording but it was issued commercially at the time and has always been regarded as one of the classic Wagner performances. Excerpts from all three are included here.

The first disc opens with several excerpts from the inauguration of the restored Vienna State Opera on 5 November 1955. The sound is fairly distant and the bass is boomy but one gets quickly involved in the performance and Mödl’s intense Abscheulicher, wo eilst du hin? The cast as a whole is starry: Ludwig Weber is Rocco, Paul Schöffler is Pizarro, Anton Dermota is a youthful Florestan, Waldemar Kmentt a very young Jacquino and Marzelline is sung by Irmgard Seefried. In the pit presides Karl Böhm. Variable sound, stage noises and long pauses in the dialogue notwithstanding, this is a performance to savour. There is also an excerpt from a Fidelio conducted by Herbert von Karajan with Otto Edelmann and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and three numbers from Furtwängler’s studio recording, where the sound is so much better. Here we get Abscheulicher again, just as intense, and together with Wolfgang Windgassen a jubilant O namenlose Freude.

A little incongruously Dido’s lament from Dido und Aeneas is squeezed in between Fidelio and the six songs Op. 48 by Beethoven. Dido is sung in German but the aria is deeply felt and good to have as a reminder that she wasn’t always hochdramatisch. With the immensely experienced Michael Raucheisen at the piano the Beethoven songs get sympathetic readings, sensitive and very attractive. The best known is no doubt Die Himmel rühmen, which big-voiced singers tend to blow to pieces. Mödl is monumental but also restrained – and she doesn’t over-egg the climaxes.

On CD 2 we meet the mezzo-soprano, and it is true that she didn’t always feel comfortable in the highest reaches of her soprano range. She sings the arias invariably in German. Her Eboli (Don Carlos) is grandiose, presumably a radio studio recording. Her Ulrica (Un ballo in maschera) is hefty and ominous. Here we get some glimpses of Lorenz Fehenberger as Riccardo and a young Fischer-Dieskau as Renato. Preziosilla (La forza del destino) is great and Lady Macbeth (Macbeth) is simply magnificent. Here the singing-actor is in her element.

The French repertoire on CD 3 is less interesting. Her Carmen is dramatic enough but a bit four-square and Giulietta isn’t really her role at all. Marina in Boris Godunov is more her cup of tea and Klytämnestra in Elektra live opposite Anny Konetzni is a thriller. The excerpt from Orff’s Antigonae is valuable, since it reminds us that she sang quite a lot of modern works and premiered several roles. Not Antigonae, by all means, but the premiere was only seven years back when this recording was made. Her declamation is unforgettable. Highly interesting is also Oedipus Rex with the composer conducting and Peter Pears taking the title role.

On CD 4 we reach the Wagner repertoire and there we’ll remain for the rest of the box. Almost 80 minutes of Tristan und Isolde is something to rejoice in, and with Wolfgang Windgassen and Ludwig Suthaus as Tristan she is partnered by the very best. Mild und leise is duplicated and is always worth hearing. The 1954 recording with Windgassen and Artur Rother is, if I remember correctly, a studio recording for Telefunken. The sound is surprisingly good.

More Tristan follows on CD 5, another near 80 minutes recorded at Bayreuth in 1952 with Karajan conducting. Ramon Vinay’s dark Tristan has authority but he is rather dry and unimaginative in the first act. He warms during the interval and in O sink hernieder he is the lover with deeply felt lyrical singing. He still has the stamina to manage the third act with flying colours. Ira Malaniuk is a worthy Brangäne. Mödl is superb throughout.

CD 6 opens with Adriano’s Gerechter Gott from Rienzi, where she sings beautifully with lighter-than-usual tone. Then follows three excerpts from Furtwängler’s studio Walküre (his very last recording). Ludwig Suthaus’s Siegmund and Ferdinand Frantz’s Wotan are legendary impersonations. Then, from Bayreuth 1953, she sings opposite Hans Hotter’s mighty and all-embracing Wotan. He sings with as much face as Mödl does. There is in fact more Hotter than Mödl here.

On CD 7 we are treated to the complete act I of Die Walküre, also from Bayreuth in 1954 with Joseph Keilberth at the helm. Mödl, with hindsight, thought it was a mistake to take on Sieglinde and she never sang the role again. Keilberth, who was rather underrated during his lifetime, leads a strong performance right from the rugged prelude – rather in the Furtwängler mould – where the powers of nature explode in Siegmund’s arrival into the dwellings of Hunding and his wife. One even hears the wind howling. Later on Keilberth draws a lot of beautiful playing from the Bayreuth forces. Martha Mödl, in spite of her second thoughts, is a fine Sieglinde, though missing the last ounce of lyrical beauty. Josef Greindl was one of the great Wagnerian basses for many years and Hunding, unsubtle but monumental, was one of his greatest roles. A year or two before this Bayreuth performance he sang the role on a studio recording of act I for DG, with Windgassen an ardent Siegmund and Maria Müller a well-considered but over-aged Sieglinde. Ferdinand Leitner was the conductor and it was through that LP that I first came to grips with this music. The weak link among the soloists on the present recording is Max Lorenz’s Siegmund. Lorenz was a leading dramatic tenor in Germany and later Vienna and even sang at the Metropolitan and Covent Garden. By 1954 his voice had deteriorated and even though he retained his dramatic involvement he is sorely strained, lustreless and wobbly. All this rules out this performance from being a first choice for a recording of this act. Bruno Walter with Melchior and Lehmann (review) is the one to have but there is also a recording from Dresden in 1944 conducted by Karl Elmendorff with Margarete Teschemacher and Max Lorenz and with the young Kurt Böhme a superb Hunding (review). From the mid-fifties there is also a Decca set, conducted by Hans Knappertsbusch with Kirsten Flagstad and Set Svanholm (review).

We get more from this Walküre performance on CD 8, from act II and the short excerpt in which we hear the three greatest dramatic sopranos of the era, as mentioned above. Lorenz's energetic but unlovable singing is again a liability but there is a lot to savour – not least Greindl’s Hunding and Hotter’s Wotan. Mödl is occasionally shrill and unattractive of tone but her dramatic involvement is as strong as anywhere else on these discs. Starke Scheite from Götterdämmerung is from what I believe to be studio recordings on Telefunken with Artur Rother. Strong and intense are the keywords for her reading. The Wesendonck songs are sung warmly in good sound – a radio recording I believe. Mödl doesn’t have a truly lyrical voice in the Régine Crespin class – hers has since the sixties been my benchmark recording of these songs – but she has her own approach and Schmerzen rings out with luminous greatness. The Cologne Radio Orchestra are in top shape under Keilberth.

CD 9 has the long final duet from Siegfried with Wolfgang Windgassen at his freshest as the eponymous hero and from Götterdämmerung a glowing Zu neuen Taten. From Furtwängler’s RAI concerts the same year (1953) we get Starke Scheite from Götterdämmerung.
Finally, on CD 10 there is a good hour from arguably Martha Mödl’s greatest role, Kundry in Parsifal. The disc opens and ends with excerpts from the legendary Bayreuth production of 1951, again with Windgassen and we also catch a glimpse of Ludwig Weber’s Gurnemanz and Hermann Uhde’s Klingsor. In between there are a couple of scenes from the 1953 Parsifal conducted by Clemens Krauss. These latter scenes are in pretty bad sound and Ich sah das Kind is rather blustery. Does it have something to do with Krauss’s affected conducting?

In such extensive material with a total playing time of more than twelve hours there have to be some flies in the ointment: variable sound, singers in less than premium shape, but the overall impression is that here is some of the most involved singing in some of the most demanding roles in the soprano – and mezzo – repertoire. For admirers of Martha Mödl this box shouldn’t be missed, but even those who have never heard her – or heard about her – should find a goldmine here.

Göran Forsling

CD 1 [80:00]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770 – 1827)
1. Abscheulicher, wo eilst du hin? … Komm, Hoffnung [7:17]
2. Nun sprecht, wie ging’s [4:50]
3. Wie kalt ist es … Nur hurtig fort und frisch gegraben [5:31]
4. Er erwacht … Euch werde Lohn in besser’n Welten [8:25]
5. Er sterbe! Doch er soll erst wissen … Es schlägt der Rache Stunde [4:31]
6. Wer ein holdes Weib errungen, stimm in unsern Jubel ein [4:14]
7. Gut, Söhnchen, gut, hab immer Mut [5:59]
8. Abscheulicher, wo eilst du hin? … Komm, Hoffnung [7:55]
9. Mir ist so wunderbar [4:44]
10. O namenlose Freude [2:47]
Henry PURCELL (1659 – 1695)
Dido und Aeneas:
11. Führ mich, Belinde [4:11]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN
Sehs Lieder, Op. 48:
12. Bitten (Gott, deine Güte reicht so weit) [2:23]
13. Die Liebe des Nächsten (So jemand spricht: Ich liebe Gott) [2:51]
14. Vom Tode (Meine Lebenszeit verstreicht) [4:29]
15. Die Ehre Gottes aus der Natur (Die Himmel rühmen des Ewigen Ehre) [2:41]
16. Gottes Macht und Vorsehung (Gott ist mein Lied!) [0:50]
17. Busslied (An dir allein, an dir hab ich gesündigt) [6:00]

CD 2 [68:29]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813 – 1901)
Don Carlos:
1. Verhängnisvoll war das Geschenk [4:40]
Ein Maskenball:
2. Stille! Man darf ihren Zauber nicht stören … König des Abgrunds, zeige dich [8:56]
3. Wie tief seid ihr bewegt [5:03]
4. Diese Hand hat im Kampfe gebieterisch den Degen gezogen … Nur Scherze sind’s und Lügen [5:10]
5. Bring deinen Spruch zu Ende [3:46]
Die Macht des Schicksals:
6. Beim Schalle der Trommel [2:41]
7. Ach, lasst doch … Rataplan [3:40]
8. Nun sinkt der Abend [4:22]
9. Dieser Flecken kommt immer wieder (Wahnsinns-Szene) [6:38]
10. Voller Ehrgeiz bist du … Komm, das ich reize dein träges Blut [4:24]
11. Rings liegt alles im Schlafe … Hier, den Dolch, gib ihn den Wachen … Komm, dass dem Argwohn wir entrinnen [8:05]
12. Nun sinkt der Abend [3:51]
13. Dieser Flecken kommt immer wieder [6:47]

CD 3 [78:41]
Georges BIZET (1838 – 1875)
1. Habanera: Ja, die Liebe hat bunte Flügel [4:14]
2. Wenn die Karten einmal bitt’res Unheil künden [3:56]
Jacques OFFENBACH (1819 – 1880)
Hoffmanns Erzählungen:
3. Barcarole: Schöne Nacht, du Liebesnacht [3:53]
4. Teuer Engel … Ha, wie in meiner Seel‘ … Teurer Freund, soll ich glauben … O Gott, mein Herz erliegt auf’s neue [12:13]
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839 – 1881)
Boris Godunov:
5. Langweilig ist’s mir … Ach, ehrwürd’ger Vater [10:57]
6. Dimitri! Zarewitsch … Weiss es, weiss alles [9:42]
Richard STRAUSS (1864 – 1949)
7. Was willst du? … Ich habe keine guten Nächte [16:35]
Carl ORFF (1895 – 1982)
8. O Grab! O Brautbett! Unterirdische Behausung [6:54]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882 – 1971)
Oedipus Rex:
9. Non erubescite, reges … Pavesco subito, Iocasta [9:53]

CD 4 [79:12]
Richard WAGNER (1813 – 1883)
Tristan und Isolde:
1. Weh, ach wehe! dies zu dulden [21:08]
2. Isolde! Geliebte! – Tristan! Geliebter!O sink hernieder, Nacht der Liebe [17:59]
3. Lausch, Geliebter! – Lass mich sterben [17:03]
4. Mild und leise wie er lächelt [7:10]
5. War Morold dir so wert [9:25]
6. Mild und leise wie er lächelt [6:16]

CD 5 [78:49]
Richard WAGNER (1813 – 1883)
Tristan und Isolde:
Act one:
1. Entartet Geschlecht! Unwert der Ahnen [3:38]
2. Begehrt, Herrin, was ich wünscht … Was schwurt ihr, Frau? … War Morold dir so wert [10:21]
Act two:
3. Hörst du sie noch? … Meinst du Herrn Melot? … Dein Werk? O tör’ge Magd! [12:06]
4. Isolde! Geliebte! – Tristan! Geliebter! … Was mir so rühmlich schien [16:00]
5. O sink hernieder, Nacht der Liebe [4:52]
6. Einsam wachend in der Nacht [4:29]
7. Unsre Liebe? Tristans Liebe? … So stürben wir, um ungetrennt … O ew’ge Nacht, süsse Nacht [12:11]
Act three:
8. O diese Sonne! … Ich bin’s, ich bin’s, süsser Freund! [8:18]
9. Mild und leise wie er lächelt [6:41]

CD 6 [65:09]
Richard WAGNER
1. Gerechter Gott [7:29]
Die Walküre:
2. Siegmund! Sieh auf mich! Erdenluft muss sie noch atmen [8:20]
3. War es so schmälich, was ich verbrach … Deinen leichten Sinn lass dich denn leiten [15:49]
4. Du zeugtest ein edles Geschlecht [5:51]
5. Schlimm, fürcht‘ ich, schloss der Streit [5:33]
6. Als junger Liebe Lust mir verblich … Ein andres ist’s [9:30]
7. Doch der Wälsung … O sag! Künde, was soll nun dein Kind [9:21]
8. So sah ich Siegvater nie [3:05]

CD 7 [64:15]
Richard WAGNER
Die Walküre: Act one:
1. Prelude [3:43]
2. Wes Herd dies auch sei, hier muss ich rasten … Ein fremder Mann [4:42]
3. Dies Haus und dies Weib sind Hundings Eigen [7:57]
4. Müd‘ am Herd fand ich den Mann [4:42]
5. Friedmund darf ich nicht heissen … Wunder und wilde Märe [2:59]
6. Ein starkes Jagen auf uns [3:44]
7. Ein trauriges Kind [3:21]
8. Ich weiss ein wildes Geschlecht [5:54]
9. Ein Schwert verhiess mir der Vater [5:24]
10. Schläfst du, Gast? … Der Männer Sippe sass hier im Saal [5:29]
11. Dich, selige Frau, hält nun der Freund [1:18]
12. Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond [3:01]
13. Du bist der Lenz … O süsseste Wonne [6:39]
14. Wehwald heisst du fürwahr … Siegmund heiss‘ ich, und Siegmund bin ich [5:19]

CD 8 [66:03]
Richard WAGNER
Die Walküre: Act two:
1. Raste nun hier, gönne dir Ruh’ [3:12]
2. Hinweg! Hinweg! Flieh die Entweihte … Horch, die Hörner [7:20]
3. Zauberfest bezähmt ein Schlaf der Heldin Schmerz … Kehrte der Vater nun heim [4:36]
4. Wehwald! Wehwald! Steh mir zum Streit … Geh hin, Knecht! [4:32]
Act three:
5. Nicht sehre dich Sorge um mich … Lebe, o Weib, um der Liebe Willen … O hehrstes Wunder [5:31]
6. Starke Scheite schichtet mir dort … Mein Erbe nun nehm ich zu eigen … Fliegt heim, ihr Raben … Grane, mein Ross! [20:10]
Fünf Lieder:
7. Der Engel [3:16]
8. Stehe still [3:38]
9. Im Treibhaus [6:18]
10. Schmerzen [2:28]
11. Träume [4:37]

CD 9 [77:15]
Richard WAGNER
1. Erwache! Erwache! Heiliges Weib! Sie hört mich nicht … Heil dir, Sonne [7:49]
2. O Siegfried! Siegfried! Seliger Held [6:25]
3. Dort seh ich Grane, mein selig Ross … Kein Gott nahte mir je [7:33]
4. Ewig war ich, ewig bin ich [7:14]
5. Ob jetzt ich dein? [4:47]
6. Zu neuen Taten, teurer Helde … Lass ich, Liebste, dich hier [19:50]
7. Schweigt eures Jammers jauchzenden Schwall [4:02]
8. Starke Scheite schichtet mir dort … Mein Erbe nun nehm ich zu eigen [11:24]
9. Fliegt heim, ihr Raben … Grane, mein Ross … Zurück vom Ring [8:02]

CD 10 [61:12]
Richard WAGNER
1. Nun sag: nichts weisst du, was ich dich frage … Ich hab eine Mutter, Herzeleide sie heisst … Den Vaterlosen gebar die Mutter [7:13]
2. Herauf! Herauf! Zu mir! … Ach! Ach! Tiefe Nacht … Ho! Ihr Wächter! [12:37]
3. Parsifal! Weile! … Dies Alles hab ich nun geträumt? … Ich sah das Kind an seiner Mutter Brust [9:44]
4. Wehe! Wehe! Was tat ich? Wo war ich? … Amfortas! Die Wunde! [14:35]
5. Grausamer! Fühlst du im Herzen [12:39]
6. Vergeh, unseliges Weib! [4:11]


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