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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best Fidelios
This recording exceeded my expectations. It is very dramatic and vivid without a weak link in cast. Jones is wonderful and perfectly cast as Beethoven's heroine. Excellent sound too.
Published 11 months ago by Mr Gordon Martin

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Outshone by earlier, greater recordings
Already before it appeared this recording had the look of a winning combination: Haitink had successfully conducted "Fidelio" at the Met and in 1989 Jessye Norman was still in possession of the grandest voice since Flagstad in her prime. But in the event, despite its promise and the desirability of a new interpretation in digital sound, this set turned out to be a...
Published on 18 Sep 2010 by Ralph Moore


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best Fidelios, 13 Sep 2013
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This review is from: Beethoven;Fidelio (Audio CD)
This recording exceeded my expectations. It is very dramatic and vivid without a weak link in cast. Jones is wonderful and perfectly cast as Beethoven's heroine. Excellent sound too.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Electric, 6 Aug 2012
By 
Ralph Moore "Ralph operaphile" (Bishop's Stortford, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Beethoven: Fidelio (Audio CD)
This famous recording derives from broadcasts of an Act on each of two successive Saturdays. It is compromised by the absence of dialogue, an abridgement made in order to fit each Act into the hour's transmission time available and must as such be regarded as a concert performance, but it is propelled from start to finish by an overwhelming sense of drama and urgency. Toscanini's drive is the very embodiment of Beethoven's burning outrage at the oppression of liberty by a totalitarian regime. Remember, this broadcast took place in 1944 and seems to be Toscanini's daring and deliberate assertion that the integrity of this German opera, sung not in translation but in the language of the "enemy", transcends that current state of enmity. Yet he is not all fire and dynamism; he is equally capable of relaxing to express the composer's idealisation of a conjugal love he himself never enjoyed.

The mono sound is clean and clear. It's fine in this issue but you can also buy it in the Pristine label, considerably enhanced by Pristine's XR remastering which has, as always, reduced hiss, equalised pitch variations and in particular created more "air and space" around the voices which were always prominent. The instrumental detail was always good and can only sound better in that remastering: just listen to the menace of the growling bassoons and double basses in the duet "Nur hurtig fort" in the grave-digging scene.

Toscanini immediately creates a special sense of tension and expectation in the Overture as the strings intone a crescendo on the pulsing two-note figure on a sixth before the entry of the Big Tune on the horns. Similarly the orchestral introduction to Act 2 is electric with its depiction Florestan's desperate suffering. Time and again the listener struck by the sheer, visceral directness of Toscanini's phrasing: he pierces the emotional heart of the music without self-conscious artifice or sentimentality. Yet the same conductor who pushes the music on with almost manic intensity in the interpolated Leonore No.3 Overture is equally capable of encompassing the tender poise of the Quartet or the poignancy of the Prisoners' Chorus.

Much the same may be said of the singing here. In my estimation, both principals continue to be under-rated. Other singers have made more of a meal of Florestan's great aria but Jan Peerce's virile, slightly nasal tenor is vibrant with passion - and he makes light of this incredibly difficult music, singing all the notes dead on pitch. Rose Bampton is similarly adept: her big, pure, gleaming dramatic soprano is wholly secure - even if she did have to re-record "Abscheulicher" the following April owing to a slip in the live performance - and it's a treat to hear her and Peerce conquer the fiendishly demanding "O namenlose Freude". Bampton's really was an extraordinary voice: the depth and security of her mezzo register may be inferred from the deep timbre of speaking voice in the few snippets of dialogue we are allowed and her top B's shine. She is not as animated as some exponents of this role but in pure vocal terms she is amongst the best. Apparently at Toscanini's insistence and as if to compensate for the absence of dialogue, the sung text is very clearly enunciated by both the soloists and the somewhat rough and ready chorus.

A young Eleanor Steber is a stand-out as Marzelline: sweet, strong and animated. She is ably partnered by a neat-voiced tenor previously unknown to me: Joseph Laderoute as Jaquino. Stalwart bass and Toscanini favourite Nicola Moscona is strong as Don Fernando. Neither the Rocco nor the Pizarro is ideal: bass Sidor Belarsky is ordinary of voice and his German is unidiomatic, so don't expect the kind of impact in this role made by singers of the calibre of Gottlob Frick or Kurt Moll but Belarsky makes Rocco an amiable old buffer. Veteran Herbert Janssen is too light of voice and civilised of manner to be a really truly chilling Pizarro but he brings some intensity to his characterisation with the voice he has and does not let the side down. Certainly his native German is an asset.

This is a very different experience from the stately grandeur of Furtwängler or the spiritual concentration of Klemperer but is wholly convincing on its own terms as a tour de force and is very much more than the sum of its parts.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Outshone by earlier, greater recordings, 18 Sep 2010
By 
Ralph Moore "Ralph operaphile" (Bishop's Stortford, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Beethoven: Fidelio (Audio CD)
Already before it appeared this recording had the look of a winning combination: Haitink had successfully conducted "Fidelio" at the Met and in 1989 Jessye Norman was still in possession of the grandest voice since Flagstad in her prime. But in the event, despite its promise and the desirability of a new interpretation in digital sound, this set turned out to be a disappointment. In Norman's case, a noble voice proved inadequate if it was not to be paired with the sense of drama and acute facility with the text evinced by rival interpreters such as Ludwig or Nilsson, and Haitink seems to have jettisoned the excitement which apparently characterised his live performances in favour of a literalism which borders on the inert. It is not so much the case that his speeds are slow, as that he fails to phrase and rhythms remain slack.

This melancholy conclusion holds good throughout a side-by-side comparison of the main features of this recording with those of the earlier sets conducted by Klemperer and Maazel. Take the famous Prisoners' Chorus; Klemperer generates spiritual intensity, Maazel a searing desperation, and Haitink...well, virtually nothing other than a serviceable run through the score. As Florestan and Pizarro, Vickers and Berry for Klemperer and McCracken and Krause for Maazel respectively have twice the voice of the generally light-voiced or simply inadequate singers available to Haitink. The tenor First Prisoner is dreadful. Andreas Schmidt has an attractive baritone with a fast vibrato, but can in no wise emulate the frisson that Franz Crass's noble baritone creates for Klemperer when Don Fernando arrives to punish evildoers. I am mystified to read elsewhere rapturous appreciations of Wlaschiha's windy, grainy Pizarro; wholly unable to conjure up the Grand Guignol of his predecessors' assumptions through vocal means alone, he shouts and blusters his way through the part. Reiner Goldberg was probably at that time the best tenor of the type required that Decca could find but I have heard him sing with fuller, more attractive tone in other roles; here his tone is frequently throttled. In comparison with both his stage wife and his illustrious recorded forebears, his inadequacy is all too plain to hear; he is a like a male spider, vocally devoured by his mate.

Of course there are bright spots. The glory of Norman's singing as singing per se is one - yet even Norman's vocalism sounds to me at times not so much uncomfortable as manufactured in the upper reaches of her voice: the top B's and B flats sound disjointed from the rest of the voice and I have already noted her lack of engagement with text. Kurt Moll's Rocco is almost a case of over-casting but he is as firm and sonorous as ever, and makes much more of his words than Norman - even if his is a rather noble sound for a character who extols the joys of money. The dialogue is clearly, intelligently and pacily delivered. The Dresden Staatskapelle and the State Opera Chorus are fine - but the latter are outshone by both Wilhem Pitz's Philharmonia Chorus and the Vienna State Opera Choir, who sing with more power and expressivity. The recorded sound in the Lukaskirche is warm and spacious. There is some sweet, innocuous singing from the young lovers, Pamela Coburn and Hans Peter Blochwitz. Yet even the divine quartet "Mir ist so wunderbar" fails to take off; I turned with relief from Haitink's stodgy version to Klemperer's glowing account.

Comparisons are odorous, but unless you are a diehard Jessye Norman fan-completist, or must have digital sound, I can see no good reason for preferring this to the classic versions by Klemperer and Maazel - or, for some tastes, those by Karajan and Bernstein.

This 2 CD set is one of a new series of bargain issues by Decca in crude, 1960's pop-art style in hideous, acidic colours. Despite their appearance, they are very good value, even if there is no libretto.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Outshone by earlier, greater recordings, 18 Sep 2010
By 
Ralph Moore "Ralph operaphile" (Bishop's Stortford, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Beethoven: Fidelio (Audio CD)
Already before it appeared this recording had the look of a winning combination: Haitink had successfully conducted "Fidelio" at the Met and in 1989 Jessye Norman was still in possession of the grandest voice since Flagstad in her prime. But in the event, despite its promise and the desirability of a new interpretation in digital sound, this set turned out to be a disappointment. In Norman's case, a noble voice proved inadequate if it was not to be paired with the sense of drama and acute facility with the text evinced by rival interpreters such as Ludwig or Nilsson, and Haitink seems to have jettisoned the excitement which apparently characterised his live performances in favour of a literalism which borders on the inert. It is not so much the case that his speeds are slow, as that he fails to phrase and rhythms remain slack.

This melancholy conclusion holds good throughout a side-by-side comparison of the main features of this recording with those of the earlier sets conducted by Klemperer and Maazel. Take the famous Prisoners' Chorus; Klemperer generates spiritual intensity, Maazel a searing desperation, and Haitink...well, virtually nothing other than a serviceable run through the score. As Florestan and Pizarro, Vickers and Berry for Klemperer and McCracken and Krause for Maazel respectively have twice the voice of the generally light-voiced or simply inadequate singers available to Haitink. The tenor First Prisoner is dreadful. Andreas Schmidt has an attractive baritone with a fast vibrato, but can in no wise emulate the frisson that Franz Crass's noble baritone creates for Klemperer when Don Fernando arrives to punish evildoers. I am mystified to read elsewhere rapturous appreciations of Wlaschiha's windy, grainy Pizarro; wholly unable to conjure up the Grand Guignol of his predecessors' assumptions through vocal means alone, he shouts and blusters his way through the part. Reiner Goldberg was probably at that time the best tenor of the type required that Decca could find but I have heard him sing with fuller, more attractive tone in other roles; here his tone is frequently throttled. In comparison with both his stage wife and his illustrious recorded forebears, his inadequacy is all too plain to hear; he is a like a male spider, vocally devoured by his mate.

Of course there are bright spots. The glory of Norman's singing as singing per se is one - yet even Norman's vocalism sounds to me at times not so much uncomfortable as manufactured in the upper reaches of her voice: the top B's and B flats sound disjointed from the rest of the voice and I have already noted her lack of engagement with text. Kurt Moll's Rocco is almost a case of over-casting but he is as firm and sonorous as ever, and makes much more of his words than Norman - even if his is a rather noble sound for a character who extols the joys of money. The dialogue is clearly, intelligently and pacily delivered. The Dresden Staatskapelle and the State Opera Chorus are fine - but the latter are outshone by both Wilhem Pitz's Philharmonia Chorus and the Vienna State Opera Choir, who sing with more power and expressivity. The recorded sound in the Lukaskirche is warm and spacious. There is some sweet, innocuous singing from the young lovers, Pamela Coburn and Hans Peter Blochwitz. Yet even the divine quartet "Mir ist so wunderbar" fails to take off; I turned with relief from Haitink's stodgy version to Klemperer's glowing account.

Comparisons are odorous, but unless you are a diehard Jessye Norman fan-completist, or must have digital sound, I can see no good reason for preferring this to the classic versions by Klemperer and Maazel - or, for some tastes, those by Karajan and Bernstein.

This 2 CD set is now available as one of a new series of bargain re-issues by Decca in crude, 1960's pop-art style in hideous, acidic colours. Despite their appearance, they are very good value, even if there is no libretto.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A sharply refreshing interpretation, 11 Jan 2014
By 
P. Donovan "cultural jackdaw" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Beethoven: Fidelio (MP3 Download)
I bought this on the strength of it starring Jonas Kaufmann and I have not been disappointed. The orchestral playing is strong and lively and the singing is bright and passionate. To be recommended.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars too carefull, 5 May 2010
By 
John Rooney "octavian" (wakefield uk) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Beethoven: Fidelio (Audio CD)
what promised to be a great recording dissapoints, Jessye Norman certainly has the vocal range to sing Leonora but the interpretation is too studied and carefull lacking the excitement and drama of the excellent Christa Ludwig.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fidelio and excellence, 28 Feb 2013
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This review is from: Beethoven: Fidelio (Audio CD)
amazing voice of ms norman so full and emotive
the spirit of freedom after repression
the magnificence of the music and the grandeur and accuracy of singers give memorable performance
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Peerless, 25 Aug 2011
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This review is from: Beethoven: Fidelio (MP3 Download)
Vickers made me cry - sixteen more words needed by amazon, but no more needed to make the point about beauty of tone!
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