4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Some operas work especially well when sung in an English (many end up sounding like Gilbert and Sullivan!) and this is a prime example. Chandos released an excellent version a few years ago, but this recording, based on a Sadlers Wells production, more than stands comparison, despite the fact that it was recorded nearly half a century ago.
The sound is good and the orchestral playing under Mario Bernardi is first class. The Siegfried Idyll, conducted by Sir Colin Davis, is an excellent and wholly appropriate filler; Humperdinck's music, although more obviously "accessible", is very reminiscent of Wagner.
It is the singing which will attract the most listeners, however, and although it was cast "in house", there are some undeniably stellar performances here. The title roles are effectively taken by that splendid mezzo Patricia Kern (outstanding as Hänsel) and the rather less well-known Margaret Neville (who had, I believe, a successful career in Germany), whose fluttery, girlish timbre is highly appropriate in the role of Gretel. The parents are wonderfully sung by Rita Hunter and Raimund Herincx, both of whom went on to become eminent Wagnerians; they both evince great character whilst singing with tremendous style. The same is true of Ann Howard's Witch; she really sings the role and pantomime effects are kept to an effective minimum.
Another major selling point is, of course, the price (you should be able to pick this up cheaply); this is a genuine bargain and I defy you not to enjoy it!
on 5 December 2014
If you want this work sung in English, with clear words, fabulous orchestral playing and a conductor who really knows what this work is about, look no further. The first review of Amazon.co.uk is insightful and perceptive, the second is incompetent, frankly.
The recording was under the control of Norman Newell, best known for his recordings of popular music. He uses lots of special effects, a really wide stereo spectrum, plenty of "pan potting" as he moves the witch around the aural stage. The orchestra has a resonant and rich acoustic, with signs of extra resonance being added by "the plate."
Mario Bernardi has the full measure of the piece. He sees the warmth, the stillness and, at times, the sheer terror written into the music by Humperdinck, a contemporary of Wagner, he acted as a conductor at Bayreuth in the early days, and it show in the music at times. The scenes with Mother and Father in Act One are given a gripping and ferocious treatment as passions rise, only to relax into the more tender music later on. This is masterly music-making.
Of the principal singers, Patricia Kern is superb as Hansel, really focussed and with fine tone throughout. Ann Howard made something of a career as the Witch, in fine form here. Raimondi Herincx gives his all as Peter, the Father, in his best recorded performance. His voice rides over the orchestra in excellent fashion. Rita Hunter is a stunning Mother. Her voice is pure gold, powerful, sharply-focussed and used with great musicianship, as was always her way. Margaret Neville is suitably girly as Gretel. The lesser parts are well sung, particularly Elisabeth Robinson as the Sandman.
The peroration is handled with great skill and is a suitably moving and powerful close, without too much saccharine being added.
The filler is from the very first recording made by Colin Davis, Siegfried Idyll, by Wagner. This is in rather thin sound compared with the Humperdinck, but worth hearing nonetheless.
Any love of Romantic music should buy this set.