It is an embarasse de riches for Mozart devotees to have this set
released concurrently with Decca's similarly legendary 1955 recording with
Erich Kleiber and the same orchestra. They do not come into direct comparison
as Karajan wallops away all the recitatives (sensible to my mind) whilst
Decca's is almost complete to the letter. Still, 'Figaro' has always been
a magnificent battleground for singers and in both sets we have the cream
of Mozartian singing in the 1950's.
Erich Kunz's 'Figaro' is unsurpassed, his characterization is second to none
and although Siepi is a match to him in diction, Kunz carries all before
him in a display of superb Mozartian singing. One only needs to turn to 'Non
piu' andrai, the classic conclusion to that remarkable First Act to listen
to Kunz in full flow. The young Schwarzkopf is also mercurially vivid although
Lisa della Casa on the Decca set is altogether superior, that radiant voice
is indeed one of the greatest Countesses ever. Schwarzkopf's 'Porgi amor'
reveals her lack of Italianate command and in some other numbers she is also
slightly Germanic but otherwise it is a definitive interpretation especially
in the emotional 'Dove sono', another miracle of mixed emotions in Mozartian
George London's Count is aristocratic and demeaning, what he lacks in inveterate
charm he makes up for in superb singing although his occasional exclamations
may seem slightly studious, one must turn to Poell for a really superb Count.
Sena Jurinac's Cherubino is also winningly done; this is indeed a delightful
role to sing! I've kept the ace of this set till last and that is Irmgard
Seefried Susanna, one may argue that this is the greatest Susanna of all
time. Such is the emotional depth behind Seefried's singing that she despatches
Gueden's role on our selected comparison set with ease, this is one of the
greatest Mozartian roles ever recorded.
And at the centre of all this we have Herbert von Karajan, a demoniac in
the very best sense of the word, coaxing his singers to exalted heights and
conducting the orchestra with real passion (just sample the overture). EMI's
reissue features some intriguing studio photographs and a superb essay by
Richard Osborne, surely must-haves for the Karajan devotee. You may want
to sample before buying but this 'Nozze' is definitely an essential part
of the discography where this opera is concerned alongside Kleiber's. The
sound is adequate; typical early 50's EMI although it has been somewhat improved
since its last reincarnation.