A 10 CD box of the bass-baritone Hans Hotter, 1909-2003, singing familiar Wagnerian roles, a range of other opera characters [including Boris Godunov] and assorted, and less, familiar lieder.
The first three discs are devoted to extended excerpts from The Ring, followed by one each for The Flying Dutchman, Tristan and Parsifal, and Die Meistersinger. The next two include arias by Marschner, Beethoven, Mozart, Handel, Pfitzner, Mussorgsky, Rossini, Bizet, Leoncavello and Verdi, all sung in German. The ninth CD is of Richard Strauss [Die Schweigsame Frau, Capriccio, Arabella, Salome and Elektra] and the final, Lieder rarities, contains songs by Nicolai, Weber, Loewe, Schubert, Wolf, Pfitzner, Schumann and Brahms with the pianist is Michael Raucheisen, 1889-1984.
The discs are very well filled, six being well over 75 minutes with the remainder 73’55, 73’06, 69’54 and 62’39 [Rossini, Bizet, Leoncavello and Verdi]. The sound is variable as the recordings are from live [including Bayreuth] and studio performances and cover 1939-60.
Hotter first sang Wotan in 1937 and it was his voice that I grew up with in the early 1950s and 1960s - so it carries especial memories. The Wagnerian excerpts are conducted by Knappertsbuch, Fritz Stiedry, Karajan, Keilberth, Clemens Krauss, Leopold Ludwig, Wilhelm Schüchter, Meinhard von Zallinger, Wolfgang Sawallisch and, a surprise, André Cluytens [the 1956 Bayreuth Die Meistersinger]. Elsewhere the baton is held by Karajan, Krauss, Artut Rother, Keilberth, George Weldon, Richard Kraus, Eugen Jochum, Heinrich Hollreiser, Stiedry, Hans Weisbach, Karl Böhm, Fritz Reiner, Sawallisch and Richard Strauss.
Artists singing with Hotter include Gré Brouwenstijn, Josef Greindl, Ludwig Suthaus, Gustav Neidlinger, Birgit Nilsson, Astrid Varnay, Martha Mödl, Wolfgang Windgassen, Viorica Ursuleac, Ramon Vinay, Set Svanholm, Gerhard Unger and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau . The operatic arias and scenes include Gottlob Frick, Rudolf Schock, Julius Patzak, Jerome Hines, Fritz Wunderlich, Hilde Güden, Maria Reining, Ljuba Welitsch and Varnay. A truly exceptional group.
Hotter’s voice is powerful but sensitive, and whilst not always completely steady, it had a range over contrasting and extreme emotions are vividly expressed. This is clearly demonstrated in these CDs.
Hotter’s Wagnerian recordings are well represented on LP and CD and it is true that his voice showed its age in his later years. However, his vocal artistry and declamation remained undimmed. As Wotan in Acts II and III of Die Walküre, his contrasting fatherly emotions are heartfelt and the same is true of his singing in the Flying Dutchman. His Hans Sachs reveals great introspection in the monologues whilst he is attentive, as he is throughout, to the demands of the score and the other singers.
In Wagner we know what to expect which is why the other discs are particularly revelatory. Even when singing in German his characterisation overcomes problems of language [most obvious in the scenes from Boris Godunov where so much depends on the Russian intonation and a deeper, darker Russian voice]. However, the two arias from The Barber of Seville are object lessons in Rossinian comedy, as the audience response to the live recording under Keilberth clearly shows. As might be expected his Grand Inquisitor in Don Carlo is chilling whilst the disc devoted to Strauss is particularly rewarding.
The final lieder disc demonstrates the artist’s intelligent response to words, his clarity of enunciation and ability to reveal the subtlest colours, shading and nuances. It is hard to believe that this is the same singer as bad farewell to the Brünnhildes of Nilsson and Mödl. The combined effect of Hotter’s singing, acting and sheer physique, he stood 6’4”, is clear in the audiences’ responses to his live performances.
It is truly disappointing not to be able to give this wonderful set a 5* rating – which it gets for the artistry and musicianship of the soloist. But sadly there is not a page of text describing the performances, the artist’s career, how the contemporary musical world and fellow artists regarded him, or the texts of the less familiar lieder. All there is are a few hundred words in German and English on the back cover. That is a disincentive for listeners who do not already appreciate Hotter’s artistry and intelligence.