This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.
Notes and Editorial Reviews
Heartbreakingly expressive as the continuing deterioration of Lear is made real by Reimann's score. It is music that will tear at your heart, and stay long in the memory.
When Aribert Reimann's Lear was first released on LP in 1979, DG demonstrated what could only be the result of a collective corporate brain cramp: It issued the opera with no libretto. This highly dramatic, expressive, and often "talky" opera cannot be appreciated on any level, not even the superficial, without the listener being able to relate text to music, and that omission was thus inexplicable. Fortunately, the company has gotten a grip on itself, and this first CD reissue includes superb notes and a complete German-English libretto. It
helps enormously in one's understanding of Reimann's complex but highly effective score.
Lear has received mixed critical reaction since its 1978 premiere (this recording was compiled from the premiere run of performances). In his own note that is part of this reissue, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau is reflexively defensive about those reviews, and I wish his responses had been more clearly thought out. Nonetheless it is valuable to have the baritone's perspective, especially since it was he who suggested to Reimann the setting of Shakespeare's play, and, of course, the title role was written expressly for him. The majority of the negative reviews focus on the excessive Expressionism of Reimann's music—the relentless power of the stormy music heard in the opera's first part, for instance. Critics have called it "crude," "technicolor," and worse. To me, though, it is powerful and evocative. It is surely "over the top," but so are the characters of Lear, his daughters, and those who surround them.
Lear is most certainly not for background listening. Opera lovers may well be able to hear Madama Butterfly or La traviata in that manner, and perhaps even Der Rosenkavalier. But Lear demands full attention—focus on it, including its libretto as well as its largely atonal but highly colorful score, or leave it alone. But that attention is abundantly rewarded with music that does amplify and comment on the psychological and dramatic ramifications of Shakespeare's play. It remains one of music's great losses that Verdi never did compose his Lear, and I would not imply for a minute that Reimann's very different musical language is a replacement. The German composer has, however, given us a deeply moving and engrossing score, if we will give ourselves over to it.
The performance is staggering. From the sadness-tinged firmness of his opening monolog through the deeply moving combination of weariness, heartbreak, and madness of his final farewell to the one daughter who cared about him, Fischer-Dieskau is the master of this role. His voice is in terrific shape, his singing seems at once completely spontaneous and yet thoroughly thought out, and his feeling for vocal coloration has rarely been put to better use. Julia Varady's Cordelia is equally moving and well sung, and in fact the entire cast is at the highest level you could expect. Gerd Albrecht conducts as if possessed, and the choral and orchestral forces play the music as if they have lived with it for years. The Bavarian State Opera must have given this production all the rehearsals it needed, because there is not one bar of the performance that seems tentative in any way.
In addition to Fischer-Dieskau's stimulating brief essay there is a much longer one by Reimann on the history of the composition, beginning with the baritone's suggestion to him in 1968, his (Reimann's) growing interest starting in 1972, and August Everding's official commission on behalf of the Bavarian State Opera of Munich, which came in 1975. More important, Reimann writes in considerable and illuminating detail about the music itself, and how it relates to the psychology and drama of each character and situation. Finally, there is that complete libretto that is so essential. The sound quality is a bit close-up (not oppressively so), and perfectly balanced and clear. Even though it is a live performance, there are few distracting stage noises. I have no way of knowing whether the balances were this good in the theater itself, but every word is heard while the orchestra is never slighted.
If your idea of opera is that it must contain hummable tunes, I would stay away from Lear. But if you have any interest in operatic writing of the second half of the 20th century, I believe Lear might well be one of works from that period that might endure. If for its first 45 minutes or so it seems a bit of a musical assault, that is because in Reimann's view the text demanded it. Later on the music turns more gentle, even tender, and at times heartbreakingly expressive as the continuing deterioration of Lear is made real by Reimann's score. Lear's final monolog, beginning "Weint! Weint! Weint! Weint! Ihr seid Menschen aus Stein," is music that will tear at your heart, and stay long in the memory.
-- Henry Fogel, FANFARE
Works on This Recording
Lear by Aribert Reimann
Karl Helm (Bass Baritone),
Hans Wilbrink (Baritone),
Georg Paskuda (Tenor),
Richard Holm (Tenor),
Hans Günther Nöcker (Bass Baritone),
David Knutson (Countertenor),
Werner Götz (Tenor),
Helga Dernesch (Soprano),
Colette Lorand (Soprano),
Julia Varády (Soprano),
Rolf Boysen (Spoken Vocals),
Markus Goritzki (Tenor),
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (Baritone),
Gerhard Auer (Bass)
Bavarian State Orchestra,
Bavarian State Opera Chorus
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1978; Germany
Date of Recording: 1978
Venue: Live Staatsoper, Bavaria, Germany
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