MOZART: Die Zauberflöte, K620. Symphony No. 39 in E-flat, K543*.
Josef Greindl (Sarastro); Anton Dermota (Tamino); Wilma Lipp (Königin
der Nacht); Irmgard Seefried (Pamina); Erich Kunz (Papageno); Edith Oravez
(Papagena); Peter Klein (Monostatos); Christel Goltz (Erste Dame); Margherita
Kenney (Zweite Dame); Sieglinde Wagner (Dritte Dame); Vienna State Opera
Chorus; Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra; *Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Wilhelm
PRISTINE AUDIO MONO PACO 075A/B TT: 199:53 (3 CDs).
THIS IS AVAILABLE FROM PRISTINE
Beautifully sung Zauberflöte; arch-Romantic readings. Often,
they work. The opera recording comes from a performance at the 1951 Salzburg
Festival. Apparently, Austrian Radio had taped it but destroyed the tapes.
These were "off-site" recordings from a broadcast, so the original
audio doesn't reach state-of-1951-art levels. Pristine has
done what it can, but it hasn't quite eliminated the occasional peak distortion.
with Furtwängler's Mozart, I eagerly looked forward to hearing how
he approached two of the composer's best and most effervescent works.
I'll report mixed results. The actual playing of the Vienna Philharmonic
is wonderful. Furtwängler brings out inner voices and shapes phrases
with care. Some reviewers have found that the conductor emphasizes the
spiritual aspects of Zauberflöte, by which they mean the
music of Sarastro and the priests as well as of Tamino's trial. In my opinion,
performance fails at precisely those points, and it begins with the overture.
Furtwängler sits on the "Masonic" chords so heavily that
he can't get anything going in the quicker sections, which, after all,
take up most of the time. He slows down both of Sarastro's arias to the
point that Josef Greindl can't really sing them: he's too occupied with
just making it to the end of the phrase. George Bernard Shaw wrote that
these arias were "the only music yet written that would not sound
out of place in the mouth of God." Furtwängler makes Sarastro
sound as if he needs a Feenamint. However, most of the other numbers move
fleetly and gracefully. Then again, I'm always a sucker for Papageno and
his magic glockenspiel.
For me, the singers really make the performance, usually well-supported
by the conductor. They're so good, I was hard-pressed to think of a comparable
group of present-day singers. Not only do they produce beautiful sounds,
but they possess individual timbres and can act with their voices. Their
performances come over the microphone so vividly, you think you can see
them on stage. Irmgard Seefried's Pamina will break your heart, she sounds
so vulnerable. Wilma Lipp's Queen of the Night has flexibility, power,
and, in her revenge aria, such uncannily accurate intonation in her stratospheric
runs that she reminded me of Annie Oakley, "Little Miss Sure-Shot." Anton
Dermota does well in a part where it's all too easy to phone in a wooden
performance. Let's face it -- Tamino's a bit of a stick, a generic prince-hero.
Josef Greindl has a beautiful bass, but as I've said, gets stuck in Furtwängler's
glacial tempos. As Monostatos, Peter Klein, a singer previously unknown
to me, has a flexible tenor with a bit of heft as well as a noteworthy
musical intelligence. Indeed, he strikes me as a perfect Mozart tenor.
However, the Papageno usually makes a Zauberflöte for me. Erich
Kunz is one of the best I've heard - a genuine comic actor and superb singer.
The inflation Furtwängler is occasionally subject to infects the Symphony
No. 39 with the Berlin Phil, as if ponderousness equaled profundity. This
may be my favorite Mozart symphony, with a pyrotechnic excitement and sparkle.
These two qualities Furtwängler's performance lacks. The scale is
way too big, more suitable to a middle Beethoven symphony. This may be
a reaction to the typical Nineteenth-Century opinion of Mozart as a petit
maître of "tuneful little ditties" -- a view Shaw fulminated
against. Furtwängler seems so defensive about the symphony's worth
that he overcompensates, talks way too loudly. Indeed, he blusters. He
sees Mozart through late-Romantic lenses -- a titanic hero rather than,
in this work, a fabulous comic sensibility.
Pristine attempts to give you not only a clean sound, but a "live" one
that conveys the ambience of the venue, mostly in "historic" recordings.
Their success depends not only on their technical wizardry, but on the
state of the original recording. Again, the Zauberflöte comes from
an off-site taping made in the Fifties. The symphony performance comes
from an early Forties recording which turned up in Russian archives. The
circumstances don't contribute to an ideal result. However, Pristine has
done what it can. The problems cited by the engineer, Andrew Rose, have
mostly been overcome. Again, traces of fuzz at peak outputs remain in both
recordings. I shudder to imagine how much more there was in the originals.
S.G.S. (January 2013)