This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.
Notes and Editorial Reviews
Bruno Walter conducted the first performance of Die Vogel ("The Birds") in Munich in 1920, with Maria Ivogun as a charmingly plump Nightingale and Karl Erb and Alfred Jerger as the two human visitors to the kingdom of the birds, Loyal Friend and Good Hope. Many years later he still remembered this "noble and lovely work" as one of those things which had "given value to life". It was very successful (50 performances in Munich alone in its first two years, numerous other productions including one at the Vienna State Opera), and one can readily understand its appeal to Germans of that period. Its more conversational scenes are rooted in the reassuring, comfortable world of German light opera, but in the
Nightingale's florid song (she is rather like a cross between two Strauss heroines, Zerbinetta and Daphne) and the noble theme that introduces the birds' ruler, the Hoopoe (once a human himself; Wolfgang Holzmair in splendid voice) it is immediately obvious that this is no mere light comedy.
It is in fact a lightly touched allegory loosely based on Aristophanes: Loyal Friend and Good Hope persuade the birds to build an aerial fortress between heaven and earth to intercept and tax the smoke from altar fires upon which the gods depend for sustenance. But at the centre of the drama, occupying the first half-hour of Act 2, is a quite gorgeous love duet for the Nightingale and Good Hope, or rather a duet between his idealism and the uncomplicated natural world that she represents. It is so warmly beautiful, this duet, that the author of the accompanying booklet compares it to Act 3 of Tristan and Isolde. Understandable, but missing the point: Braunfels's language is post-Meistersinger, not post-Tristan. It is quite devoid of death wish or narcissism: it is innocent, as innocent as the childlike charm of the wedding ceremony for two pigeons that consecrates the soon-to-be-destroyed fortress, as joyously innocent as the ensemble (for no fewer than 25 different birds plus chorus) that greets Loyal Friend and Good Hope on their arrival in the avian kingdom.
And it is the innocent freshness of Braunfels's imagination that saves his fable from being merely coy or saccharine. There is a magic to the Nightingale's music, alongside her stratospheric coloratura: she has a beautiful hovering theme, heard on unaccompanied violins at the outset, that gives its colour to the entire opera. Nor is the drama without darkness: Prometheus arrives in Act 2 (an impressive appearance from the young German baritone, Matthias Görne) to warn the birds that they have underestimated the power of Zeus, and his music has something of grandeur to it; something, indeed, of Hugo Wolf's portrayal of the same character. And Good Hope's return to the human world, somehow transfigured by the Nightingale's song and her innocent kiss, is obstinately memorable.
The opera could hardly be better sung; apart from those I have already mentioned Kwon is a vivid Nightingale and Wottrich an ardent Good Hope. Zagrosek directs a performance in which everyone seems to be delightfully discovering well, not a masterpiece, perhaps, but, as Walter said, a work that "gives value to life". I would love to see it on stage; the admirable recording gives a very clear impression of how entrancing it would look.
-- Gramophone [4/1997]
Works on This Recording
Die Vögel, Op. 30 by Walter Braunfels
Wolfgang Holzmair (Baritone),
Hellen Kwon (Soprano),
Matthias Goerne (Bass Baritone),
Michael Kraus (Tenor),
Endrik Wottrich (Tenor)
Berlin Radio Chorus,
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1918-1920; Germany
Date of Recording: 12/1994
Venue: Jesus Christus Kirche, Berlin, Germany
Length: 138 Minutes 46 Secs.
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