Notes and Editorial Reviews
Bernard Haitink, cond; Kiri Te Kanawa (
); Barbara Hendricks (
); Anne Sofie von Otter (
); Kurt Rydl (
); Franz Grundheber (
); Richard Leech (
); Julia Faulkner
); Graham Clark (
); Claire Powell (
); Dresden St Op O & Ch; Dresden Kreuz Ch Boys
EMI 58618 (3 CDs: 204:42)
It is a little surprising that there have been so few studio recordings of
, especially given its enduring presence on the opera stages of the world and its status as perhaps Richard Strauss’s best-loved opera. Indeed, none at all has appeared since this 1990 EMI version, here reissued in the company’s series of convenient budget boxes (with the CDs cased in album sleeves rather than jewel boxes). In my view, there are two reasons for this avoidance. On one hand, there is the ready availability of several serviceable and even great films of the opera on DVD, chiefly the two versions led by the late, great Carlos Kleiber, who seemed better able than any other recent conductor to balance the opera’s alternating light music, Wagnerian, and conversational idioms, and who could not be coaxed into the studio. On the other, there is the lingering, ominous weight of some truly great recordings from the past, dominated by some truly wonderful Marschallins: Schwarzkopf, of course, in the classic and irreplaceable Karajan version (EMI 67609), and Maria Reining, with Erich Kleiber (Decca 425950). There are also some strong live recordings that have emerged on labels like Gala and Orfeo, from the Salzburg Festival (with Gundula Janowitz, Gala 610) and (with Della Casa, Gala 606), but none of these post-date the studio recording captured here.
On its own terms, this Haitink effort is self-recommending. It features the leading Marschallin of her generation, Kiri Te Kanawa, partnered with Anne Sophie von Otter’s classic Octavian and Barbara Hendricks as Sophie. Frame by frame, this is a
to treasure, and is also completely uncut, as only the Solti (Decca) recording is among issues currently available. But the whole lacks thrust, due to Haitink’s fastidiously correct, typically Apollonian approach. The leading singers also contribute to the recording’s
by sacrificing long line and grand gesture in favor of micromanaging the moment. The focus on detail, though, exposes countless vividly realized moments that will capture the most jaded listeners. One such moment occurs in the duet between Sophie and Octavian at their first encounter in act II. A stream of
words toss back and forth between the singers, a dance of sibilants suggesting a striking, twining intimacy that lends depth to their initial attraction.
In short, this occasion may be best described as the careful unfolding of a string of carefully set jewels. Kiri Te Kanawa’s Marschallin enshrines the warm, flexible satin of her voice in perhaps its best recording. Compared to a Schwarzkopf, her approach may seem too pretty and under-characterized, but then whose wouldn’t? There are many Marschallins who bring less to the table.
While von Otter works her expected androgynous magic with her part, Barbara Hendricks brings a more complex timbre than one normally expects from Sophie. In ensembles, especially the famous trio, the voice blends less easily, but it also possesses more individuality, suggesting that this is a warmer, more intelligent, less icy and shallow Sophie than the norm.
Kurt Rydl’s impressive ring, depth, and characterful inflections can make one forget Kurt Moll, among more recent Ochs portrayers. His vulgarity is understated, even smoothed over, except in his choice of words, which ring the more jarringly. Many internal phrases acquire a plodding quality, calling attention to themselves for their banality, as in the second act conflict between Sophie and Ochs. However, Haitink’s self-consciousness frequently intrudes upon the dramatic flow. The scene with the Italian singer, for instance, lacks violence and impatience, thus missing the point; Sachs doesn’t interrupt so much as just get louder. (Though Richard Leech’s memorably tasteful Italian tenor deserves comment.)
Haitink is at his best in the turbulent Prelude to act III, where swirling, pointillistic details are realized with thrilling clarity. Kaleidoscopic color shifts come to life, suggesting that Strauss’s modernism had shifted from his harmonies (though there are plenty of dissonances that Haitink brings out here, dissonances that Strauss claimed were more intense than anything he supplied to Salome or Electra). But even in this act III Prelude, detail comes at the price of operatic excitement. Occasionally the larger arrival points—the arrival of the Marschallin for the final scene, for instance—simply “happen” rather than emerge as the inevitable punctuation of the drama and of musical developments.
At the same time, this remains one of the most consistently polished recordings of the work in existence. Diction is clear and impeccable; even rusty German speakers should be able to follow easily without a libretto (which this reissued set lacks in any case). Consistent with the other operas in this budget-box, EMI “Classics” series, this recording comes in a convenient box, the CDs in cardboard sleeves, and with essays and a synopsis, but no enclosed libretto; for libretto and translations, listeners are referred to the company Web site. Recommended with only mild caution to anyone who craves a polished and complete version of one of opera’s essential repertoire works.
FANFARE: Christopher Williams
Works on This Recording
Der Rosenkavalier, Op. 59 by Richard Strauss
Michael Kraus (Tenor),
Kurt Rydl (Bass),
Armin Ude (Tenor),
Heinz Zednik (Tenor),
Alfred Sramek (Baritone),
Ferry Grüber (Tenor),
Bodo Schwanbeck (Bass),
Claire Powell (Mezzo Soprano),
Graham Clark (Tenor),
Julia Faulkner (Soprano),
Franz Grundheber (Bass),
Richard Leech (Tenor),
Barbara Hendricks (Soprano),
Anne Sofie von Otter (Mezzo Soprano),
Dame Kiri Te Kanawa (Soprano)
Dresden State Opera Chorus,
Dresden State Opera Orchestra,
Dresden Kreuz Choir Boys
Written: 1909-1910; Germany
Length: 204 Minutes 45 Secs.
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