My sole focus of interest in this recording was Alice Coote. I had the privilege of hearing her in this very piece in October 2011 at the RFH with Maazel and the Philharmonia, and partnered by the reliable but unremarkable Stefan Vinke.
As I really don't need to need to add to my collection of now 71 recordings of this work, with which I am obviously obsessed, It was primarily as a souvenir of a great performance that I decided to purchase the disc-not a great reason, I admit-but BOY! Am I glad I did as the whole enterprise is absolutely superb!
The recording is in the most spacious detailed sound I can recall, with incredible transparency, even in the weightiest moments, and I have heard orchestral detail never before revealed on recording-and this is in stereo!
In SACD it is even more astounding-true "state of the art".
The voices are captured in an ideal vocal balance, just as one would hear in the concert hall, occasionally coming near to but just avoiding being swamped by the orchestra-and what an orchestra!
I am totally taken aback by the virtuosity of the playing of the Netherlands Philharmonic-the richness of the brass, the lush sonority of the strings, the crystalline brilliance of the high woodwinds and the impact of the percussion give us one of the most impressive orchestral performances against ALL rivals-Vienna, Berlin, BRSO and Concertgebouw included!
The Netherlanders yield nothing in terms of sheer excellence to their colleagues in the Concertgebouw.
Marc Albrecht is a conductor for whom I have had muted enthusiasm in the past-but here he excels, taking a forthright, thrusting view and shaping individual sections in an original and telling manner.
I don't agree with reviewer "Entartete Musik" (in the UK) that the opening of Von der Schoenheit is flaccid-I find it touching and delicate, and entirely in keeping, but he is right about the overall tenor of the work being more wistful and a touch sad rather than the devastating outpouring of tragic longing that it can be-and this does indeed work perfectly as a valid and rewarding view of this endlessly fascinating piece.
I had not heard Burkhard Fritz before, though I was aware that he has sung Parsifal in Vienna and Florestan and Cavaradossi in Berlin under Barenboim, and so I was hopeful that he would give a good account-and I am happy to say that it is better than good, it is very fine indeed. He has the standard Germanic slightly nasal tone, and reminds me of Michael Schade, and both Kollo and a steady Peter Hofmann. He surmounts the high peaks with a steady powerful legato, and sings beautifully in the more reflective moments. His is not the biggest voice, and does not banish thoughts of other favourites-Wunderlich (of course), Heppner (for Bertini), Christian Elsner, Araiza (for Giulini live with the VPO), Kmentt (for Kubelik) James King and of course Kollo (with Bernstein)-but I will return to his performance with pleasure.
Finally to Alice Coote. I prefer a lighter voice in this work, rather than the darker contralto tones we often hear, and Alice Coote has just the right instrument, to my ears. She sings with infused vulnerability, her tone seeming likely to crack at times under the restrained emotion-it doesn't of course, this is just great artistry, and she gives a touching and beautifully interpreted reading of each song.
Der Abschied is a triumph for her, Albrecht and the orchestra-It will not leave you devastated and totally drained as can happen in a great performance, because it is not intended to. It is wistful, nostalgic, a touch defiant and finally comfortable with the resignation of the inevitable. I love it- I was moved and uplifted in equal measure.
There are so many great recordings of this work that comparisons are odious and outright recommendations impossible-how many would you like?
What I will say is that this recording holds its own up among the very finest in every respect-and there is certainly no better recorded version.
A fascinating and in many respects revelatory account-if it appeals, buy with confidence!!
5 Glorious Stars, Stewart Crowe.