Customer Review

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply wonderful ... and legendary!, 10 Aug. 2012
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This review is from: Wagner: Der Fliegende Holländer (Audio CD)
This 1968 studio recording (London, Abbey Road) is simply wonderful and legendary (it has been published several times, see, for instance: in 2000 Wagner: Der Fliegende Hollander (Klemperer) or in 1994 Wagner: Der Fliegende Holländer (Flying Dutchman) or in 1990 Flying Dutchman). The present one is the 2010 issue and it uses the 2000 remastering. As usual in this EMI collection, the libretto - in German, English and French - is on the "bonus CD" or can be downloaded from the EmiOpera website. The other three quoted issues enclose a paper libretto.

Everything in this production is quite perfect - the soloists, the conductor, the orchestra, the chorus and, despite its age, also the sound.

Theo Adam (b. 1926) is a gorgeous Holländer, giving unmatched voice, soul and dramatic consistence to the difficult role, whose deep humanity is tragically suspended in a devilish dimension, at once natural and supernatural.
Adam is in his prime; not only he sings exceptionally well, but he also magically manages to materialize the desperate and fascinating Dutchman in the same room where you are listening to the opera!
I have to say that this capacity of breaking the diaphragm created by the acoustic reproduction is a feature which characterizes the whole performance.

Anja Silja (b. 1940) is an exceptionally convincing Senta. Someone does not like Silja's timbre, but she sings very very well and here her voice is what exactly needed to dramatically render Senta's visionary sensitiveness to the supernatural vocation, which mysteriously indicates her destiny.
Her performance is simply astonishing, being her indisputable virtuosismo completely devoted to give the right dramatic sense to the role.
She and Theo Adam fully accomplish the difficult task of render their duets credible, emotional and extremely involving.

The "giant" Martti Talvela (1935-1989) is perfectly suited to the role of Daland, the Norwegian Captain, father of Senta.
Talvela is here particularly able in giving the impression of being older than Adam-Holländer.
He is in his prime and perfectly renders the multifaceted character of Daland: expert and attentive Captain, lively man, loving father, but actually too simple and materialistic in accepting the Dutchman's treasure in change of his own treasure, his beloved daughter, without paying any attention to the premonitory signals that surround him. With no hesitation, he "fires" Erik (in any case not so welcome, being an huntsman and not a seaman) as Senta's suitor, even if, indeed, Daland does not seem to want to force Senta, and, anyway, he has not the occasion to do it, because of the reciprocal, immediate and powerful attraction of the two predestined souls.
Indeed, Daland blindly continues to interpret what is happening by means of his terrestrial categories: marriage-richness-material welfare; on the contrary, the events are moving on a supernatural level: love-redemption-transfiguration.
Tavela's strong vividness is what needed to give us an unforgettable, well sung and acted, Daland.

Ernst Kozub (1924-1971) gives his really beautiful voice to Erik. In my opinion, his interpretation is excellent.
Critics have often some reservation about his performance. Everybody recognizes the natural beauty of his voice, but, at the same time, someone points out in Kozub a supposed musical limitation, in particular on the side of solfeggio. Some criticism is surely influenced by the shadow let on his career by the problems he encountered while recording Siegfried in the famous Culshaw-Decca-Solti Wagnerian project, so that he had to pass his role to the great, and more experienced, Wolfgang Windgassen (1914-1974).
It is very difficult to evaluate how much those problems depended on his ailing health or on his musicality. It is sure that he was Culshaw's first choice and that, in 1955, he had already recorded Die Zauberflote, as Tamino, with Solti and a stellar cast (Grümmer, Köth, Fricks, Ambrosius, Steffek), therefore... .
Probably, Kozub, due to his health and, maybe, to a not instinctive sense of solfeggio, needed more time to study a part of that assigned to him to learn the difficult role of Siegfried.
Surely here his voice is simply magnificent - full, warm, never strained - and he shows first class interpretative capacities. In 1968 he also recorded a wonderful movie (for a tv broadcasting) of Die Freischütz - with, among the others, Frick, Saunders and Mathis -, where he sings a really gorgeous Max.

Annelies Burmeister (1928/30?-1988) is an excellent and convincing Mary. She perfectly depicts Mary's practical and realistic character, creating the required vocal and dramaturgical contrast to the visionary and ultra-sensitive Senta.

Gerhard Unger (1916-2011), on the contrary of Talvela, Kozub and Burmeister, had long life and career (he might be considered the German counterpart of Piero De Palma). He sang and recorded with many of the most famous conductor. He had already been Monostatos in Klemperer's celebrated Die Zauberflöte recorded in 1963.
Here he is the oldest of the cast, but his Steuermann is fresh, vivid, well sung and clearly articulated.
His solid presence and self-confidence perfectly complete the already robust and outstanding cast.

All the cast (except Talvela, but, two years later, the Senate of West Berlin granted him the rank of Kammersänger and, in general, critics consider his performance the best of the recording) is German and, this, obviously, in Wagner has its weight.

Otto Klemperer (1885-1973) is the actual soul of this recording. Many critics consider this performance one of his best on disc, along with Mahler's Second Symphony and Das Lied von der Erde and Beethoven's Third Symphony.
We here collect all the fruits of his supreme artistic maturity. Someway, we meet a confirmation of Claudio Arrau's suggestion that age does not reduce passionate feelings and, at the same time, it leads to warmer and freer - not more arbitrary, but released from Ego's rituals - performances.
As a matter of fact, Klemperer here appears particularly involved and powerfully passional, at the same time maintaining the whole thing consistent with top level technicalities.
As a result, you literally feel overcome by a powerful wave of rich sounds, which immerses your soul in a new dimension, where what you are listening to really and spiritually happens.

The New Philharmonia Orchestra is here simply astonishing for precision, attentiveness and empathetic involvement.
The BBC Chorus works maybe a step below, but its performance is warm, heart-felt, and it matches the needed effects.

The sound is exceptionally beautiful, also in comparison with more recent recordings. The main accomplishment is the perfect balance among all the elements. Only here and there, in particular in the Kozub's third Act main number, voices are a bit distant. Other "positional" effects, for instance the contemporary choruses from the two ships, are very well managed and they fully render the needed tridimensional deepness.
Here EMI is in the post-Legge era (as is known, Walter Legge was not so favorable to the new stereophonic technicalities) and accomplishes a superb result.
All details are clearly audible and everything is both wrapping and well defined, but, obviously, this is also due to the exceptional New Philharmonia precision.

It is not simple to judge if this recording is the best of ever, but, in my opinion, surely it is the one which presents the maximum number of strong points and quite none weak point.
Other prestigious issues might present one or two stronger points, obviously relating the judgement to personal tastes, preferences and empathies: Hans Hotter (with Krauss or Reiner or Schüchter), George London (with Keilberth or Sawallisch or Doráti or Böhm), Franz Crass (with Sawallisch), Dietrich Fisher-Dieskau (with Konwitschny) as the Höllander; Astrid Varnay (with Keilberth or Knappertsbusch), Leonie Rysanek (with Sawallisch or Doráti or Böhm) as Senta; Josef Greindl (with Fricsay or Sawallisch), Gottlob Frick (with Konwitschny) as Daland, etc. . But just these brief notes and then taking in consideration also orchestras and choruses, a very variable sound quality, a distinction among studio or live or broadcasting recordings, lead to a matrix of possibilities and evaluations, the best solution of which is represented, in my opinion, by this wonderful production.

In other words, I am not sure if it is the best of ever, but I am sure it is the best first purchase.
Then, obviously, it will be very important, interesting and exciting to listen also to the Höllander of the great Hans Hotter or to the Senta of the marvelous Astrid Varnay, and so on, but, in conclusion, on the whole, it will be very difficult to find a better edition.
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Showing 1-7 of 7 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 7 Nov 2012 17:14:12 GMT
T. Graff says:
who is Mark? do you mean Erik?

In reply to an earlier post on 7 Nov 2012 18:05:42 GMT
Luca says:
Thank you very much for your kind correction to my lapse (a sort of awkward mix between Max of Die Freischütz and Erik, both interpreted by Kozub, whom I was writing about). I have consequently corrected my review.

Thank you also for your attentive reading!

Posted on 21 Mar 2013 01:05:48 GMT
A lot of work and research went into your review. I commend you for it. I had doubts about the 1968 recording as Decca were generally well ahead in epic works back then e.g. Salome, Elektra, Solti Ring. I hadn't realised that the rather unlikeable Walter Legge had been acting as a ball and chain on his engineers efforts to keep up with SonicStage at Decca. You have given me a date which I shall use in the future. I shall purchase this. Thank you for your efforts. ps I knew that you meant Erik and that Mark was a Tristanesque mental typo. Don't worry about nit pickers. Well done.

In reply to an earlier post on 21 Mar 2013 11:22:22 GMT
T. Graff says:
Oh dear. I'd hardly want this to become unpleasant, but I'm afraid that you may have jumped to a rather over-zealous, 'Kurwenal-esque' show of defence. This is is a good review of a very fine recording. It has five 'useful' votes. One of which is my own. I (I thought rather clearly) was correcting a minor point, not dismissing the entire review. Ok I'm done now. You don't have to 'worry any more' Mr. T. Y. W Kent. I'm finished with 'picking at nits'.

In reply to an earlier post on 21 Mar 2013 11:32:55 GMT
My apologies Mr.Graff but you have to admit that the bald comment did not look very gracious to a massive effort put in by the reviewer. If you had added what you have just said to your comment, I would have not referred to our itchy little friends. Unpleasantry over. Friends in music? Tom K.

In reply to an earlier post on 24 Mar 2013 11:37:20 GMT
Luca says:
Sure, someway Walter Legge hampered EMI in pursuing Decca/Culshaw researching (and finding) advanced improvements of stereophonic technologies.
For instance, in 1957 EMI started the recording of its outstanding version of Strauss' Capriccio in stereo. As soon as the (male) soloists began quarreling about the balance among (I should say "the prominence of") their voices, Legge, due to his own aversion to stereo sound, quickly used the occasion to come back to a mono recording. That is why we have that wonderful studio performance (possibly the best of ever) in (very good) mono sound.

Thank you very much for your attentive reading and for your commending, encouraging and heartfelt comment.

In reply to an earlier post on 24 Mar 2013 17:32:55 GMT
Hi Luca, Thank you. I love the story about the squabbling male prima donnas. Legge appears to have been a dinosaur who would not accept that mono, no matter how good, was the past and stereo was the future. Decca's Soundstage probably revolted him. It is a bit like making more and more perfect B&W TV sets after the Colour TV revolution. My point is that this arrogance, shared by his wife, held EMI back badly which was a shame. He may have won the battle at that time but Decca won the war e.g. with the Solti Ring. The 1957 EMI Capriccio I do not know. I must explore. Best wishes, Tom Kent. ps I am awaiting delivery of the set you reviewed. Without your passionate advocacy it would probably have passed me by. Thanks.
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