This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.
Notes and Editorial Reviews
Bernstein's interpretation approaches Toscanini's in vitality, rhythmic drive and delicacy, while Fischer-Dieskau's Falstaff is a miracle of art concealing art.
I enjoyed this performance enormously. To live with it, with this glorious heartwarming score, in the depressing aftermath of Christmas—too much turkey, plum pudding and liquor, though Falstaff would not have agreed—was as good as a trip to those sunshine-drenched resorts so compulsively advertised in the newspapers but available only to the idle rich. The Philharmonia Orchestra played splendidly for Karajan (Columbia), the RCA Italiana Orchestra very well for Solti (RCA) but both these are surpassed by the superb playing, under Bernstein, of the Vienna
Philharmonic Orchestra. Very good though the RCA recording was, the CBS (recorded by Decca and produced by their Erik Smith), is even better. In reviewing, there are always reservations on various points. Solti began explosively, treating Verdi's double forte as at least triple, Bernstein goes almost one stage further, and there are exaggerations later on here and there such as the treatment of the crescendo in the orchestral prelude to the first scene of Act 3, and the two blown-up trills, in this scene, as the wine circulates in Falstaff and mixes with the Thames water he has so unwillingly imbibed—though he must have got rid of that before! These exaggerations are of small account in the fine overall conception of each scene.
I am lost in admiration for Fischer-Dieskau's characterization of Falstaff. It is akin in many ways to that of Gobbi in the Columbia recording rather than that of Geraint Evans in the RCA, but Fischer-Dieskau does suggest, with notable art, the voce grossa which is not his by nature, and it is only at a few climactic moments, such as the high G at the end of the "honour" monologue, that he cannot produce the volume of tone required to come through the orchestra. There is one moment when he sounds coy, and that is when, dressed up to kill, he comes in to accompany Sir Brook (otherwise Ford) for his visit to Alice "between two and three o'clock". But fat men can be coy, and I think the effect is right. Another small point is his surprised "well" when Mrs Quickly tells him she comes from Mrs Ford. Geraint Evans gets the intonation right—it is one of anticipation—not surprise. For the rest this is a fine and subtle performance in line with A. C. Bradley's celebrated essay on King Henry's rejection of his one-time comrade—which gives so true a picture of the knight. Boito improves on the farcical figure of The Merry Wives of Windsor by introducing elements from Parts 1 and 2 of Henry IV and so shows Falstaff as "not chiefly an old reprobate, sensualist, liar and coward" but a man, not entirely guiltless of these things, but above all a man through whom "a rich deep toned chuckling enjoyment circulates, one who enjoys eating and drinking, taking his ease at his inn, and the company of other merry souls". The one line Boito should have never given to Falstaff comes in the last scene, "I perceive that I have made an ass of myself"; this he never perceived! Fischer-Dieskau brings out movingly a selfknowledge he did have, in the great monologue of Act 3, "the world of the good-old-days is past—my beard is grayer . . . my breath is shorter"; and this corresponds to his words to Doll Tearsheet in Henry IV, Part 2, "Do not remind me of mine end".
Rolando Panerai, as in the Columbia set, is a most excellent Ford, though lacking Robert Merrill's ringing upper notes (RCA), and Murray Dickie's BardoIf and Erich Kunz's Pistol are well characterized; but Bernstein really should not have allowed Gerhard Stolze to 'ham' Dr Caius at the start of the opera. Caius is certainly meant to be shouting, but not ranting like this. Fortunately, he improves later on. Graziella Sciutti and Juan Oncina are a more ardent pair of young lovers than Mirella Freni and Alfredo Kraus (RCA), but Sciutti is not in her best vocal state: her voice develops a flutter in the floating high A flats at the end of the love duets and again, more conspicuously in the Fairy Song of Act 3. She brings much charm to the part and one can only be sorry for her bad luck. Oncina, apart from slurring up to his high notes in his aria in Act 3, and sometimes earlier on, is in good form, but the best artists in these two parts we have had are Anna Moffo and Luigi Alva (Columbia).
I liked Hilde Rossl-Majdan's Meg— she never gets much notice but is far from a negligible character—and also Regina Resnik's Mrs Quickly. This is a famous impersonation. Her voice here seems a little toneless in the middle: her emphasis on the little 'crushed' note as she sings "Reverenza" in curtseying to Falstaff suggests that Quickly has arthritic knees.
And so I come to Ilya Ligabue whose Alice, as adorable as ever—for we have heard her in the RCA recording and the Decca excerpts with Corena—is the life and soul of the party. Her wit, charm, sensuous pleasure in the exquisite phrases Verdi gives her to sing, are an absolute joy. Bernstein conducted six performances of Falstaff with this cast and orchestra at the Vienna State Opera before making the recording, and it is no doubt due to this that the ensembles have such fine precision, though the Solti recording runs it close in this matter.
Sometimes the orchestra is too obviously brought nearer to us than normal, as in the trills after the "honour" and "vile world" monologues, and in a few other places, but in general the balance is first-rate as it is also between voices and orchestra. The clarity of the nine-voice ensemble in the second scene of Act 1, and the way Fenton's voice stands out in it, is wholly admirable.
[This] recording, then, goes on the shelf, with the rest, as the most memorable of all, but leaving Toscanini still supreme, though I must admit that I cannot hear his recording in comfort now. Bernstein comes nearest to that great man's interpretation both in vitality, rhythmic drive and delicacy, and one can easily forgive him the extravagances I have alluded to above—they can, at least, be toned down. And in terms of A. C. Bradley's essay and of Elgar's view of Falstaff, Fischer-Dieskau's interpretation, a miracle of art concealing art, is for me the most satisfying we have had.
-- Gramophone [2/1967]
reviewing the original LP release
Works on This Recording
Falstaff by Giuseppe Verdi
Graziella Sciutti (Soprano),
Regina Resnik (Mezzo Soprano),
Juan Oncina (Tenor),
Ilva Ligabue (Soprano),
Rolando Panerai (Baritone),
Hilde Rössl-Majdan (Mezzo Soprano),
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (Baritone),
Gerhard Stolze (Tenor),
Murray Dickie (Tenor),
Erich Kunz (Baritone)
Vienna State Opera Chorus,
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 1893; Italy
Date of Recording: 1966
Venue: Sofien Hall, Vienna, Austria
Length: 125 Minutes 50 Secs.
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