Notes and Editorial Reviews
For the second time this month Dame Kiri Te Kanawa emerges as a very positive Straussian heroine, though this time for Johann, not Richard. Like her Marschallin on the new set of Der Rosenkavalier, her portrait of Rosalinde brings not only gloriously firm, golden sound, but vocal acting which shows her at her happiest and most uninhibited. This is a performance with real star quality, and the fact that her German accent is less than perfect is turned to advantage. She becomes an Anglo-Saxon Rosalinde, with the occasional phrase or two of English slipped deftly into the dialogue.
If at the live concert performance which André Previn conducted at London's Royal Festival Hall last December, neither Dame Kiri nor he were at their most relaxed, it is very different here. Previn has a special relationship with the Vienna Philharmonic, and the mixture works to produce an idiomatic account tautly controlled. His may be a plainer reading than some, avoiding a few traditional hesitations and accelerations when the score plainly indicates a tempo, but it is one which consistently conveys the work's exuberant high spirits; a performance to have you tapping your foot in sympathy.
As at the Royal Festival Hall, Orlovsky is sung by Brigitte Fassbaender, more dominant in that role than anyone I can remember. For her alone it is worth hearing this set. Not only does she sing with a tangy richness and firmness, she emerges as the genuine focus of the party scene, no effete dandy but a tough figure. There is a delicious snarl in her pointing of words in the "Chacun a son gout" solo, and her spoken dialogue, throatily delivered, has all the command of Marlene Dietrich in her prime. Agnes Baltsa on the Domingo/ EM! set and Marjana Lipoviek on Harnoncourt's Teldec version (5/88—nla) have both recorded superb accounts of this equivocal role, but Fassbaender easily outshines them both.
With Edita Gruberová as a sparkling, characterful and full-voiced Adele (far happier in this part than she was as Rosalinde for Harnoncourt and stunningly brilliant in her Act 3 couplets) and many other fine qualities besides, this goes to the top of my list of latterday Fledermaus recordings, if with one serious reservation. The producers, echoing the brilliant presentation given to Carlos Kleiber in his DG version, have used copious crowd noises throughout the party scene of Act 2, but where on DG the crowd is simply made to respond to individual moments both in the dialogue and in the musical numbers, very effectively so, the Philips production adds a layer of crowd noise as background throughout, even during Orlovsky's solos. Such a host would have been furious at being ignored so blatantly, with women shrieking behind, albeit at a distance.
That layer of extraneous sound is arguably acceptable during the dialogue, and during most of the ensembles it distracts relatively little. But Strauss's gentler moments are seriously undermined by the sludge of distant chatter and laughter. Surely you need a hush of expectation on such a lovely chorus as "Brüderlein und Schwesterlein", particularly when it is so yearningly done as here, leading to delectable whoopsing on "Du-idu". The only number exempted from background chatter is Rosalinde's great "Heimat" solo and Czardas, expansively done with Dame Kin soaring gloriously. Yet even there the producers are reluctant to stop the chatter: it continues through the introduction to the very moment when she starts to sing. By contrast the applause she receives at the end could effectively be warmer. Others may find the persistent background noise less distracting than I do, and I suppose I might well get used to it for the sake of such an infectious performance, but it would make all the difference if Philips now did a rapid remix, keeping atmospheric crowd noises only where relevant and not as a permanent background. My other complaint over the sonic production is that Alfred's off-stage tenor voice in Act 1 comes not from the open air, but from a reverberant vault next door; most unconvincing. Otherwise, the recorded sound is superb, with brilliance and bite alongside warmth and bloom, finer than any I have heard in this music, both immediate and well-balanced. The spoken dialogue is well edited and briskly delivered, with not too much of it. Like Kieiber, Previn avoids having a series of party-songs in Act 2, whether from visitors or principals, and similarly opts for the Un/er Donner and Blitz Polka instead of the ballet music, performing it with even more punch and swagger than his DO rival.
The male soloists are vocally just as strong as the women, though not as characterful. Wolfgang Brendel as Eisenstein and Olaf Bar as Dr Falke both sing very well indeed, but quite apart from their voices sounding too alike, they hardly match Dame Kiri and Gruberová, let alone Fassbaender, in the heightening of delivery, the hint of a sendup, which gives extra fun to such an operetta. Richard Leech as the Italian tenor in the new Rosenkavalier conveys just such a hint of selfparody, and here as Alfred he has afield-day, singing with heady tone, though I am glad that the odd opera snippets he trots Out in Acts 1 and 3 are not overdone. Tom Krause makes a splendid Frank, the more characterful for no longer sounding young. Anton Wendler as Dr Blind and Otto Schenk as Frosch the jailer give vintage Viennese performances, with Frosch's cavortings welltailored, and not too extended.
Altogether a magnificent set and a welcome new development for Previn, but a project flawed by the serious misjudgement of presentation I mention. When Kleiber's DG performance, lighter and more individual than this if not so much fun, is put out of court by the grotesque falsetto Orlovsky of Ivan Rebroff, this new Philips is an obvious first choice among digital recordings, even with that flaw. But don't forget the Karajan EMI and Decca versions, old as they are (1955, 11/88; 1960, 12/87), the EMI in mono with Schwa rzkopf and Gedda, the Decca with a splendid cast from the company of the Vienna State Opera.
-- Edward Greenfield, Gramophone [9/1991]
reviewing Philips 432157