Notes and Editorial Reviews
Cardillac, written in 1925 and 1926, proved a major turning point for Hindemith. No longer the high-spirited, cynical wunderkind of Das Nusch-Nuschi and Suite 1922, the thirtyish composer was now taking the musical world and his position in it seriously (he would occasionally relapse into farce in the future—Hin und züruck and Neues vom Tag—but always with a specific purpose). He assisted and prodded his librettist, Ferdinand Lion, and then composed the music in one great swoop. The libretto is as unusual in its construction as in its subject matter. A master goldsmith cannot bear to be parted from his creations, so he goes around murdering the purchasers or possessors, reclaiming his art. The man is the whole essence of the opera, yet
we don’t meet him until act II; act I is a superlative dramatic structure preparing us for his entrance. That the neo-Baroque music is filled with counterpoint in no way interferes with the surging flow of the action. This is certainly Hindemith’s most dramatic opera; for all their wonderful music, Mathis der Maler and Die Harmonie das Welt are burdened by high-minded philosophy and excess length. Cardillac’s 90 minutes fly by, as one high-wire scene tumbles after another. Even the seduction scene, which closes act I, a pantomime accompanied by two soft flutes, is hair-raising, because the audience suspects, knows, that it will be interrupted by murder.
This West German Radio broadcast was also the source for Deutsche Grammophon’s 1968 recording, the opera’s first. It sounds even better here; not as mellow, perhaps, but clearer, as if a stage scrim had been lifted or a veil removed. Opera d’Oro is a cheap label providing minimum amenities, but one must admire it for consistently getting the best possible sound from variable sources. Fischer-Dieskau’s Cardillac is a potent central figure; the voice was still strong, and the combination of the baritone’s dramatic presence with the role’s fierce music creates as scary an operatic villain as can be found on records. Leonore Kirschstein has problems with pitch, which eventually becomes trying (her character does not appear in the first act). One odd point about this recording: when the as-yet-unidentified murderer stabs The Cavalier at the climactic moment of their love-making, The Lady’s scream ends act I. The soprano in the competing recording could raise the dead, but the otherwise magnificent Elisabeth Söderstrom utters not a sound. That competition is a Wergo set led by Gerd Albrecht. Siegmund Nimsgern creates a very different Cardillac, equally well sung but less dramatic. Verena Schweizer is superior to Kirschstein, and the rest of the casts break about even. As fine as that performance is, Fischer-Dieskau’s steely concentration makes this one preferable.
Then there is the troubling matter of a libretto—an absolute necessity for Cardillac, with its fast, complex action. Without one, you wouldn’t know what that flute duet was all about, nor would you be expecting the murderer to appear at any moment. I chided Wergo in Fanfare 12:6 for not including an English translation of its German text, and decided in favor of the Deutsche Grammophon LPs for that reason. But when the DG appeared on midpriced CDs (15:6, page 82), the libretto did not. Of course, we can’t expect Opera d’Oro to include one; at its price ($11.99 on the Net) we’re lucky to get a two-page essay, two more of synopsis, and a listing of the 18 tracks. But you must find a text somewhere: if you Google “Cardillac libretto” you will find one offered; click on “translate this page.” Even the laughable computer translation will be better than nothing, and you might be able to tidy it up manually before printing. Opera d’Oro unnecessarily breaks the second act across two discs; Wergo did the same. DG puts the first two acts on disc 1 and added 57 minutes of Mathis der Maler to disc 2, which is the reason to keep that set if you have it. If you don’t, grab this Opera d’Oro issue now. Hearing Cardillac again has been a gripping experience.
James H. North, FANFARE
Works on This Recording
Cardillac, Op. 39 by Paul Hindemith
Eberhard Katz (Tenor),
Elisabeth Söderström (Soprano),
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (Baritone),
Leonore Kirschstein (Soprano),
Willi Nett (Baritone),
Donald Grobe (Tenor),
Karl [bass baritone] Kohn (Bass)
Cologne West German Radio Chorus,
Cologne West German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Date of Recording: 06/1968
Venue: Live West German Radio Studios, Cologne
Notes: Composition written: Germany (1926).
Composition revised: USA (1952).
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