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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 – 1791)
Die Entführung aus dem Serail [107:16]
Overtures:
Die Entführung aus dem Serail [6:02]
Die Zauberflöte [7:42]
Così fan tutte [4:41]
Le nozze di Figaro [4:23]
Don Giovanni [6:27]
Der Schauspieldirektor [4:41]
Bassa Selim – Heinz Woester (speaking role)
Belmonte – Walther Ludwig (tenor)
Konstanze – Wilma Lipp (soprano)
Blonde – Emmy Loose (soprano)
Pedrillo – Peter Klein (tenor)
Osmin – Endré Koréh (bass)
Wiener Staatsopernchor
Wiener Philharmoniker (Serail) London Symphony Orchestra (overtures)/Josef Krips
rec. 1950-52, Kingsway Hall, London; Grosser Saal, Musikverein, Vienna
ELOQUENCE 480 7191 [71:31 + 71:16]

Mozart’s greatest operas have long been great favourites in the opera houses and they have also been frequently recorded. In fact four of the five Greats were set down more or less complete during the era of the 78s: in the 1930s the three Da Ponte operas were recorded under Fritz Busch at Glyndebourne and Die Zauberflöte was recorded Thomas Beecham in Berlin just before the outbreak of the war. But the fifth, Die Entführung aus dem Serail, had to wait until the LP-era. On the other hand it was the very first opera Decca recorded and issued in microgroove. LXT 2536-38 was recorded 3-9 June 1950 and issued in October the same year. It was closely flowed by Clemens Krauss’s Fledermaus, recorded in June and September 1950 and issued the following year. Very early was also Hans Knappertsbusch’s Meistersinger, who recorded the second act in September 1950 and the other acts in September 1951. Krauss’s Zigeunerbaron was also recorded in April 1951. There may have been one or two others as well, but Die Entführung was the pioneer. A book titled “Musik på skiva” (Music on Records), issued in Stockholm in July 1951, listed classical music on 78s available in Sweden at the time, but had an appendix about the new long-play records and mentioned especially “the recording of Die Entführung aus dem Serail [which] will go down to the history books – the recording itself can hardly be surpassed and the work is seldom heard due to the unusually demanding vocal parts”. With hindsight it is easy to see that the technical superiority was quickly outdone – not least by Decca themselves with full frequency range recording and the advent of stereo within just a few years. The demanding vocal parts, it must be said, are ably negotiated by the cast here, but not in all cases with the brilliance shown by later generations of singers.

In spite of mono sound and somewhat limited frequency range the sonics in this latest incarnation are not bad. The string sound is a bit wiry but it’s a clear sound and it’s well balanced. In relation to the voices the orchestra is balanced backward, but that is a common feature with recordings of this period and nothing to worry about. The voices are well caught, there is punch in the choruses and in ensembles the voices are well separated and still blend well. From the beginning of the overture with the crisp reproduction of the percussion one feels satisfied and hardly thinks of any drawbacks for the rest of the listening session. One reason for that is certainly the lively playing throughout. Josef Krips was an excellent Mozartian, both as a symphonist (he recorded the Jupiter symphony with the LSO the same year as Die Entführung, and the six overtures at the beginning of CD 1 the following years; in the 1970s he recorded the late symphonies with the Concertgebouw Orchestra for Philips) and as opera conductor (Don Giovanni for Decca in 1955; Die Entführung for EMI in 1966). It is interesting to compare the brisk and vivid overture to the complete opera with the separate recording with the LSO with concert ending, where there is a nobler attitude to the music. The quality of the sound is a notch fuller and more brilliant, as a matter of fact.

As for the singing it must be pointed out that the two sopranos are both to be regarded as soubrettes and sound very much alike. Both were splendid singers in their days. Wilma Lipp was a noted Queen of the Night and can be heard in the role on Karl Böhm’s Decca recording from 1955. The voice is clear, even and beautiful and she has no problems with the range and the technical difficulties of Konstanze’s part. In particular she impresses in the notorious Martern aller Arten – but one longs for a fuller voice. Encountering a soprano today in the role in any live performance singing like this would however be a treat. Emmy Loose, on the other hand, was born to sing Blonde, glittering and crystal clear – and she is also an uncommonly bubbling and pert actor in the spoken dialogue. A couple of years later she was the soubrette in Otto Ackermann’s legendary series of Lehár and Strauss operetta recordings and anyone who has heard them will know what to expect. The tenors are solid and reliable but also a little dull. Walther Ludwig was a noted Mozart singer and also an excellent Lieder singer, his excellently nuanced singing of his arias can be noted, but there is also a dryness creeping into his voice, indicating that he wasn’t in his first youth. He was de facto 48 at the time. Anton Dermota, who sang Don Ottavio and Ferrando in Decca’s Mozart series in 1955, would have been a better choice, and Leopold Simoneau singing the role for Beecham some years later is, together with Fritz Wunderlich and Nicolaï Gedda, the best Belmonte ever. As for Endré Koréh he sounds more baritone than bass in the upper reaches of his voice, even though he has most of the black notes at the bottom, but he lacks the fluency for the coloratura in Ho, wie will ich triumphieren. It should be mentioned that there are minor cuts within numbers and Ich baue ganz is cut altogether, but is replaced by Wenn der Freude Tränen fliessen from act II.

I derived a lot of pleasure from this vivid performance but it falls short of the best available. Ferenc Fricsay’s 1954 recording, also in mono, for Deutsche Grammophon, is sonically some notches better, has Rita Streich as an unbeatable Blonde, the black voiced Josef Greindl a formidable Osmin and Ernst Haefliger a mellifluous Belmonte. Martin Vantin is a more flexible Pedrillo and sings In Mohrenland better than any other, while Maria Stader’s Konstanze is more distinctly differentiated from Blonde, but her slightly tremulous tone isn’t to everybody’s taste. Thomas Beecham has Simoneau and Gottlob Frick as his trump cards but the ladies are not quite competitive and he rearranges the music. Jochum in the mid-sixties has Wunderlich and the jovial Kurt Böhme but a shrill Erika Köth, and Krips in his stereo remake has Frick again, Gedda at the height of his powers, and Anneliese Rothenberger (Konstanze) and a young Lucia Popp (Blonde). Provided we draw the line for vintage there, I would say that those who want Krips at all costs buy the EMI with confidence, those who prefer real vintage (mono) buy Fricsay. I’m fully satisfied with those two – though I have a half-dozen others as well, including Solti, which has claims to be the most recommendable of all with Gruberova, Battle, Winbergh and Talvela. The present recording is however the most vivid of them all. Choosing operatic recordings is almost always a matter of swings and roundabouts.

Göran Forsling

Previous review: Ralph Moore

Recording details
Overtures: Kingsway Hall, London, 17 December 1951, 2-4 January 1952
Opera: Grosser Saal, Musikverein, Vienna, Austria, 3-9 June 1950

 



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