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Mozart: Die Zauberflöte / Karajan, Mathis, Ott, Perry, Et Al

Release Date: 10/25/1990 
Label:  Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog #: 410967   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Edith MathisKarin OttFrancisco AraizaJosé van Dam,   ... 
Conductor:  Herbert von Karajan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic OrchestraBerlin Deutsche Oper Chorus
Number of Discs: 3 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 2 Hours 32 Mins. 

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This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.

Notes and Editorial Reviews

Gramophone's review of the original LP release, October 1980:

A performance full of spontaneity and joy. In a formidable list there is, all round, no finer version available.

It is nearly 30 years since Karajan made his previous recording of this opera—still available and a very formidable contender even today— and a full 42 years since he recorded the overture with the Berlin State Opera Orchestra. That was his very first essay on disc, historic enough to merit its place here on a supplementary disc—a 'maxi-single' or 12-inch 45rpm—which has the 1938 reading on one side and the overture from the new set on the other.

The overture is of course included too in its proper place on Side 1 of
Read more the set, but the contrasts between the three versions quickly establish the consistency of the Karajan reading, its clear development with the years and the Mozartian character which is surprisingly different from what one normally expects from Karajan in Mozart. His readings of late Mozart symphonies are among my least favourite, too smoothed over, not nearly rhythmic enough, and his 1979 recording of Figaro for Decca (D132D4, 9/79) reflected a similar approach with speeds extreme in both directions, fast and slow.

This new Zauberflöte is quite different, recognizably the work of the interpreter who directed the 1952 EMI performance, but significantly modified in details of tempi, always towards a more rhythmic, fresher approach. The present set clearly confirms that whatever his view of other Mozart, he wants lightness and resilience to be part of this opera. It is a magical reading, the most buoyant since Beecham's of before the war, also made in Berlin.

The main Allegro of the overture itself is significantly slower than in the 1938 performance, though the respective timings of 702" and 6'20" also reflect the fact that the Adagio punctuations are now more spacious. The 1952 performance stands between, for already by then Karajan was introducing an element of playfulness in the Allegro without relaxing quite so much as now. Otherwise one of the Inost striking changes is in the tempi Karajan chooses for the two Queen of the Night arias. In 1952, even Wilma Lipp, agile and generally sweet-toned, was raced mercilessly, and the result was disagreeably hectic. Karin Ott this time has a weightier voice, sweet enough in slow lyrical music but—as with so many aspirants today—hardening under the pressure of the high coloratura. It is as well that Karajan chooses tempi that allow her to sing every note, for though the tone is at times disagreeable (if no more than is usual), there is genuine characterization and word-pointing, which is rare. Roberta Peters on the Mtn set (DG) may be a fraction sweeter, but sounds negative by comparison.

As before in many of the big arias—Tamino's "Dies Bildnis", both of Sarastro's, and Pamina's "Ach, ich fiihls"—Karajan's tempi are dangerously slow, but I would certainly not count them lethargic, when in their expressiveness they are so concentrated. That is specially true of Sarastro's arias, where Karajan's choice of soloist—a favourite singer with him, Josê van Dam—may reflect his characteristic preference for singers less weighty than are usually chosen for particular roles, but which is gloriously justified here by the sheer beauty of the legato singing. On this recording at least van Dam has no difficulty in producing healthy and satisfying low Fs, seemingly untroubled by breathing problems even at Karajan's slow tempi. Franz Crass on the Böhm set and even Ludwig Weber on the earlier Karajan are weightier but sound less spiritual as well as less beautiful.

There you might argue that Karajan is smoother than he- was, but it is not at the expense of the words, and in the rest of the cast one notes that word-pointing can even take precedence over Mozartian stylishness. For some that may be a disappointment in the relatively little known tenor chosen as Tamino, Francisco Araiza. There is a degree of coarseness, even explosiveness in his very first entry, and the tone is not always beautiful, but the heroic scale and timbre are never in doubt. In "Dies Bildnis" Dermota on the earlier Karajan set, closely followed by Wunderlich on the Böhm, set standards of their own, but the less reflective, more external trumpet tone of Araiza has its beauty too, and the great moment in the dialogue with the Speaker, "O ew'ge Nacht", inspires Araiza to a half-tone which rivals even Wunderlich's.

Gottfried Hornik as Papageno similarly has a few moments of explosiveness, but his is in general a delightfully direct and bright reading of the role, much less smooth than Erich Kunz's very individual Viennese manner and equally contrasted with Fischer-Dieskau's rendering—in the tradition laid down in Gerhard Hiisch's glorious performance on the Beecham set—with Papageno presented in Lieder-style. Unexpectedly after Hornik's relaxed and beautifully pointed account of the Birdcatcher's Song, Fischer-Dieskau with Bohm sounds altogether too brisk.

The Pamina of Edith Mathis has many beautiful moments, and again word-pointing is important. With the exquisite Pamina of Irmgard Seefried on the earlier Karajan set beautiful tone goes with depth of feeling, but there is no denying that Mathis is most affecting too, using the slow tempo for "Ach, ich fiihls" to give extra weight and contrast and commendable precision to the difficult phrase of demisemiquavers. Evelyn Lear, on the BOhm set, at a faster tempo sounds less poised, less tender and less hushed. As for the rest, there are no real weaknesses. The names alone are enough to commend the line-up of the Three Ladies, Heinz Kruse is a superb Monostatos who sings with clarity and precision as well as characterizing well and the three boys, fluting trebles, sound delightfully fresh. Previously Karajan had women in those roles, and in his GRAMOPHONE review AB singled out their contribution for its ethereal quality. He also underlined the sensuous beauty in that earlier Karajan set as a whole.

I hope I have made it plain that to a degree Karajan has altered his priorities, and significantly in this of all operas the flute, whether symbolic or not, is presented with a fresh and open breathy tone, rather different from the woodwind tone which has often marked the work of the Berlin Philharmonic. If I was asked to characterize the new set in a single expression it would certainly not be 'sensuous beauty'. This set may not present so many vocal glories as the earlier one, but even more than that it contracts the joyful exuberance of the writing on the one hand—not least in the codas to each finale—with the gravity of the big reflective moments.

The recording helps. It is DG's first digital opera set, and was recorded on two channels only, which meant that balancing had to be done at the time of recording. There are one or two balances which might be criticized and one or two ensembles which—by Karajan standards—might be a fraction tidier, but the end result is a performance which far from sounding too smooth is full of spontaneity and joy. In a formidable list there is, all round, no finer version available.

This time, unlike last, Karajan has spoken dialogue between numbers. It follows with minor modifications the pattern followed in Bilihm's set on the same label, arguably too much for the nonGerman speaker. With the new set the pace is fractionally slower, but the word-pointing and sound production are more helpful in conveying meaning. The result is beautifully coordinated.

-- Gramophone [10/1980]
review of original LP release,DG 2741 001
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Works on This Recording

Die Zauberflöte, K 620 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Edith Mathis (Soprano), Karin Ott (Soprano), Francisco Araiza (Tenor),
José van Dam (Bass), Gottfried Hornik (Baritone), Tone Kruse (Tenor),
Janet Perry (Soprano), Claudio Nicolai (Baritone), Anna Tomowa-Sintow (Soprano),
Agnes Baltsa (Mezzo Soprano), Hanna Schwarz (Soprano)
Conductor:  Herbert von Karajan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra,  Berlin Deutsche Oper Chorus
Period: Classical 
Written: 1791; Vienna, Austria 
Length: 153 Minutes 0 Secs. 
Language: German 

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