STRAUSS: Salome. Excerpts from Elektra.
HUMPERDINCK: Hänsel and Gretel
PUCCINIi: La Bohème
We are indebted to Pristine for their remastering of these famous old recordings which now sound better than ever. The Solti/Nilsson Salome is a stunning performamce with the soprano in top form, a superb supporting cst, and Sir George coaxing magnificnt sounds from the Vienna Philharmonic. Master technician Andrew Rose explains that the recording, reissued often, surprisingly was in wo versions, one higher-pitched than the other. Rose felt the lower-pitched one was the most realistic so this is the one used in this reissue. The recording was made in 1961 and producer John Culshaw did a magnificent job of capturing the rich orchestra l /vocal sounds. At the time, Decca said this was a "sound stage recording," to entice audiophiles. And there is no question that from a sound standpoint thuis is magnificent. This reissue is filled ou wih excerpts from the 1952 DGG recording of Elektra that featured Erna Schluter at her best in the title role, with Elisabeth Höngen as Klytemnestra and Ferdinand Frantz as Orest, with Solti and the Bavarian Staet Orchestra reorded in Munich. The mono sound has been altered to "ambient stereo" to good effect. It seems odd that only three exerpts are included; easily Pristine could also have included the opera's final scene.
Humperdinck's Hänsel and Gretel was recorded in five sessions in the summer of 1954 in the warm acoustics of London's Kingsway Hall. Walter Legge produced it and assembled the perfect cast, and ttie result has set the standard for all others. Chidren can really relate to thus fairy tale opera starring the young bobroher and sister, and has become a favorite in most opera houses. The exception is the Met's ill-advised up-dating of the plot, a Nathaniel Merrill production that is an insult to Humperdinck's opera. This superb Pristine reissue has a welcome bonus, the magical 1955 recordings of arias from Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro, Cosi fan Tutte and Die Zauberflöte, and Ist ein Traum from Act III finale of Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier, with Elisabeth Grummer, Erna Berger and Erika Koth and the Berlin Philharmonic directed by Wilhelm Schüchter. A terrific release in every way¡
The two other reissues feature the artistry of tenor Jussi Bjoerling. This Boh\ème was recorded in six sessions in the Spring of 1956 in New York's Manhattan Center. In spite of limited rehearsal time, the performance is memorable in every way with the tenor in his most famous role. The Spanish soprano offers a fragile but vocally secure Mimi, and Sir Thomas, who throughout his career had championed countless opera performances, is perfect on the podium. This recording of Bohème should be in every collection.
The Tosca also displays Bjoerling in another of his major roles, Cavaradossi, which he performed often (he sang sixteen performances at the Met). Zinka Milanov, best known for her Verdi, gives a dramatic interpretation vocally secure osca (doubtless with retakes). She was quoted at the time of the recording as saying at this stage of her career "high Cs don't grow on trees." Leonard Wartren is an appropriate menacing Scarpia; and Erich Leinsdorf, as always, is a master of opera. The stereo sound is excellent, and if you enjoy this Puccini opera, surely you will wish to add this to your collection of famous older recordings featuring Renata Tebaldi and Maria Callas. If this opera interests you, investigate the exciting 1957 live Covent Garden performance in which she is partnered by Franco Corelliu (REVIEW).
R.E.B. (September 2019)