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Busoni: Doktor Faust / Fischer-Dieskau, Lewis, Boult, LPO

Busoni / Boult / Fischer-dieskau / Harper
Release Date: 09/27/2011 
Label:  Lpo   Catalog #: 56   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Ferruccio Busoni
Performer:  Ian WallaceDietrich Fischer-DieskauRichard LewisJohn Cameron,   ... 
Conductor:  Sir Adrian Boult
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic OrchestraAmbrosian SingersLondon Philharmonic Chorus,   ... 
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BUSONI Doktor Faust (concert abridgement) Adrian Boult, cond; Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (Faust); Richard Lewis ( Mephistopheles ); Ian Wallace ( Wagner ); Heather Harper ( Duchess of Parma ); John Cameron ( Duke of Parma ); Ambrosian Singers; Royal Acad of Music Ch; London PO & Ch Read more LPO 56 (74:26) Live: London 11/13/1959

Adrian Corleonis, whose knowledge of and enthusiasm for the operas of Ferruccio Busoni is obvious from the reviews he has provided for this journal over the years, wrote a short assessment of this 1959 live performance for Fanfare 35:3. In it he details some of the many cuts made in this recording of Busoni’s last opera, ranging, as he noted, “from a page or three to entire scenes.” Indeed, less than half of the score is presented. The rationale for the cuts made by conductor Adrian Boult in consultation with the Faust of the broadcast, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, is not clear. As presented, it is less a “concert abridgement”—though I have used Corleonis’s designation for indexing consistency—than a set of excerpts, some starting midscene with a quick fade-in. Indeed, some have questioned whether this is really all of the concert as given. The LPO producers probably should have made all this clearer to the potential buyer. This is plainly not an alternative to the note-complete Nagano recording on Erato, which is in release-limbo at the moment, or the cut but substantially complete and highly authoritative Leitner on DG, which is available as a download from that company’s website.

Nonetheless, this is a release of real historical significance. Boult led important British and London premieres of works by Mahler (the Ninth Symphony [1934], Das Lied von der Erde [1942], and the Third [1947]), Schoenberg (Variations for Orchestra [1932] and the Brahms Piano Quartet orchestration [1962]) and Berg (his 1934 Wozzeck was highly praised by the composer), among others. Some of these have found their way to release, along with belated recordings of his excellent Brahms, Schumann, and Wagner. Still, he is pigeonholed as a British-music specialist. While this is undoubtedly where his finest legacy lies, it would be unfair to his memory to overlook his pioneering work in a wide range of contemporary music. In his memoir, Fischer-Dieskau describes him as “this ever-young champion of new music in England,” not least because of his service to this work and composer. Boult first conducted a concert version of Doktor Faust in 1937, it too cut “to bring it into a reasonable concert shape.” This was done with the apparent acquiescence of Busoni’s widow, who attended the performance. He also performed the piano and violin concertos and a number of other scores, and even mounted an all-Busoni concert in 1962. (As Michael Kennedy asks in his biography of Boult, “Which other British conductor would have undertaken it?”) So he was no tyro, having a go at something unfamiliar. He certainly does not strike me, as he did Corleonis, as “haphazard.” To the contrary, emotional currents are as potent and the dramatic flow (given the cuts) as cogent as that of his recorded successors. I’ll go further and suggest that I prefer his dark, brooding approach to Nagano’s in many ways. True, the relatively recessed recording of Boult’s orchestra dampens the intensity that he and his cast generate, but it is there nonetheless, and to these ears the intelligence of the conducting and singing is indisputable.

As for the cast, there is no denying my colleague’s critique of Richard Lewis’s wheedling, sinister Mephistopheles, who, alas, is overtaxed by the role. The other tenors on CD cope better, but both of them were recorded in a studio. The rest of the cast is, however, quite impressive. Corleonis and I are in complete accord regarding the superiority of Heather Harper to her recorded competition, and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau all but owned his role from his first performance of Faust four years previously. Detractors who find his singing mannered later in his career will find nothing to complain of here. Moreover, Ian Wallace is a particularly strong Wagner and John Cameron makes the most of what remains of the Duke of Parma’s part. It is a shame that we don’t get to hear them sing all of the opera, though as it is, Lewis probably wouldn’t have made it.

As noted, the monaural sound could be better balanced, though this restoration is clear and pleasant enough otherwise. There are the usual small executional flaws that one would expect in a recording of a single live performance. It is not a good choice for getting to know the opera, given the substantial cuts and, further, the lack of a libretto. It is, however, definitely a release that anyone interested in this opera, composer, conductor, or singers should seek out.

FANFARE: Ronald E. Grames
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Works on This Recording

Doktor Faust, K 303 by Ferruccio Busoni
Performer:  Ian Wallace (Bass), Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (Baritone), Richard Lewis (Tenor),
John Cameron (Baritone), Heather Harper (Soprano)
Conductor:  Sir Adrian Boult
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra,  Ambrosian Singers,  London Philharmonic Chorus  ... 
Period: 20th Century 
Written: circa 1924; Berlin, Germany 
Date of Recording: 1959 

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