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Von Waltershausen: Oberst Chabert / Lacombe, Uhl, Very, Skovhus, Pauly, Berlin Deutsche Oper Orchestra

Von Waltershausen / Kaufmann / Odob / Lacombe
Release Date: 05/31/2011 
Label:  Cpo   Catalog #: 777619-2   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Hermann Wolfgang von Waltershausen
Performer:  Manuela UhlRaymond VeryBo SkovhusSimon Pauly
Conductor:  Jacques Lacombe
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Deutsche Oper Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

WALTERSHAUSEN Oberst Chabert Jacques Lacombe, cond; Bo Skovhus (Count Chabert) ; Raymond Very (Count Ferraud) ; Manuela Uhl (Rosine) ; Simon Pauly (Derville) ; Stephen Bronk (Godeschal) ; Paul Kaufmann (Boucard) ; German Op Berlin O & Ch Read more CPO 777619-2 (2 CDs: 99:30 Text and Translation) Live: Berlin 3/2010

I hadn’t come across Hermann Wolfgang von Waltershausen before, but judging by his withdrawn, dignified, but rather sad life, not many people have. Kevin Spacey’s line in American Beauty rather comes to mind: “Oh, don’t worry; I wouldn’t remember me, either.’ Born in 1882, he overcame a serious childhood disability to quickly become a pianist and conductor, trained in composition by that figurehead of tradition Ludwig Thuille. Waltershausen was based in Munich from 1901 until his death in 1954, and many would credit that town’s traditional values and music scene for his innate conservatism. An adamant opponent of newfangled atonality and jazz, experimenting and mold-breaking were just something other people did. Much as he worshipped Wagner and Liszt, good composition for him came out of personal decency and craftsmanship. A respected professor and writer on musical style, he was not surprisingly dragged into the politics of the time. Better to ignore his noncommittal, cowardly stance on the Jewish question, and admire his vocal dismissal of Hitler’s artistic policy—an honorable if damaging career move, which cost him his post at the Munich Academy of Music and pushed him into early retirement, financially unstable, but still teaching with his integrity intact. He was most prolific in his early-30s when he wrote most of his songs and three of his five stage works. Later on, he wrote what look like intriguing orchestral works such as an Apocalyptic Symphony, but his last opera, Die Gräfin von Tolosa (completed in 1937 but still unstaged), finished his composing career, aside from teaching exercises. Out of this little handful, only Colonel Chabert (1912), his second opera, could be considered a hit.

And before we scoff, it was a sort of hit. Initially Oberst Chabert was as successful as Strauss’s contemporary operas, reaching many different theaters, including abroad. But the First World War put a stop to its popularity, as Germans no longer wanted a story about a wronged French colonel, and no one else wanted a German opera about embittered soldiers, until men returning from war ensured it had a relevant second wind in that fertile Weimar period. Indeed, one could think of this as the tonal, Romantic answer to that era’s Wozzeck (1925). Despite strangling his career, Hitler didn’t oppose a staging in 1933, but it still didn’t survive the next 12 years. Buried and forgotten, it is basically the 2010 Berlin production, under review here, that finally reappraises this resolutely late-Romantic, 20th-century work. Freely adapting Balzac’s 1832 Le Colonel Chabert , Waltershausen achieves quite a compact three-act narrative from Balzac’s musings on money and Napoleonic society. Rosine is no longer the icy bitch who siphons off her “dead” husband’s assets, but instead a misunderstood and guilt-ridden youngster who remarries for love after Chabert’s presumed death—precisely the opposite reason she married Chabert in the first place. Where Balzac condemns Chabert to a life of ostracized poverty, Waltershausen mercifully has him commit suicide, before letting Rosine join him out of overwhelming guilt. Which is loyal of her. What Waltershausen achieves is a love story without love, the reunion of a couple who shouldn’t have been together in the first place, making for a peculiarly sad and regretful tragedy.

Musically it is in a similar vein to the sound worlds of Korngold, Schreker, and Schmidt. I would almost pitch his writing somewhere between Puccini and Strauss, although Waltershausen’s melodic skill is not in their league. He is not as utterly sophisticated and elusive as Korngold can be, but in my opinion, he is more accessible. He is a little hamfisted with the Marseillaise motif (Puccini sets a better example with his use of the American anthem in Butterfly ), but his skill at orchestral texture is never in doubt. Start maybe with the quintet at the end of the second act, where Chabert realizes how Rosine doesn’t want to recognize him, to gauge the best of his melodic and narrative skill. Without anything else of his to compare it to, I am generally very taken with the performance. Bo Skovhus’s light but intense baritone is always a pleasure to encounter, and I am very much enjoying this second career of his in unusual, character-driven music. Manuela Uhl has her strident moments, but has a natural dramatic sense, and captures her role’s resigned sense of duty and guilt. Her potentially preposterous death scene is also beautifully sung. Raymond Very sings cleanly, if blandly, as her new husband. Jacques Lacombe gets a refined, clear-textured performance out of his Berlin forces, all very unfussy, although now and then Lacombe could press on more, like after Chabert’s offstage suicide.

I usually wish that these one-off rarities were brought out on DVD, but judging by the minimalist video projection and Armani suits kicking about in the booklet photos, I reckon we have only been denied an average Euro-cliché production. Oh, that’s not fair without having seen it; I am biased by Yves Angelo’s wonderful film of Colonel Chabert with Gerard Depardieu. Tellingly, the director here was to have been that brilliant filmmaker Atom Egoyan. Sound is excellent and, despite live recording, stage noise doesn’t seem to get in the way too much. Likewise cpo has made sure we have suitable context with very fine, thorough notes and full texts, although the English translations are pretty wonky. There isn’t anything especially groundbreaking about Waltershausen’s style; to be blunt, it is second-rate Puccini with a Bavarian accent, but that counts as pretty high praise. Certainly cpo is not wasting its time on this, and I would welcome more of this forgotten but talented man’s work.

FANFARE: Barnaby Rayfield
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Works on This Recording

Oberst Chabert by Hermann Wolfgang von Waltershausen
Performer:  Manuela Uhl (Soprano), Raymond Very (Tenor), Bo Skovhus (Baritone),
Simon Pauly (Baritone)
Conductor:  Jacques Lacombe
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Deutsche Oper Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: Germany 
Notes: Oberst Chabert, (Colonel Chabert) - subtitled: Tragic opera in three acts after Honoré de Balzac. 

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