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Humperdinck : Hänsel Und Gretel

Humperdinck : Hänsel Und Gretel

1 Oct 1993
4.7 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Customer Reviews

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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Having recently written a comparative review of the three excellent sets recorded in the 70's and then been encouraged by fellow reviewer Sewart Crowe to try this more modern account, it seemed silly not to do so now that it has been re-issued very cheaply.

It is indeed an excellent version: it boasts the best sound so far, of course: rich and lush - in perfect accord with Runnicles' indulgent treatment of the score in what is evidently a Wagnerian manner which courts high seriousness - or at least, the mock heroic. This is by no means necessarily inappropriate; his longer line and grand phrasing, complemented by the sumptuous playing of the Bayerischen Rundfunks Orchestra, by no means excludes the charm and lightness of touch the music sometimes demands.

The singing is first rate, especially the contrast between Ziesak's sparkling, soaring, slender-voiced Gretel and Larmore's tougher, yet still velvety Hänsel, more boyish in the Fassbaender manner. They duet wonderfully. I have a few reservations about the parents; the growing bleat in Weikl's voice has aleady started making an unwelcome appearance in 1994 and neither he nor Hildegard Behrens are ideally steady but they characterise vividly and make a believeable pair, he presenting a kindly soul and she a care-worn mother who still retains a hint of mischief and fun in her. Both the cameo roles of Sandman and Dew Fairy are really sweetly sung but in a rather generic way which is less engaging than previous exponents such as Popp, Te Kanawa and Augér. Hannah Schwarz's witch is something of a tour de force without eclipsing memories of Ludwig or Södeström.
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Format: Audio CD
It's a sad state of affairs that Englebert Humperdinck is best known for having his name appropriated by a "crooner" from Leicester, and for having his most played compositions being the concert endings he wrote at Wagner's behest for the orchestral chunks from the Ring and the Act 3 Prelude of Lohengrin!
Fortunately, his one true masterpiece, Hansel und Gretel, is wonderfully well represented on recordings, and receives ever more performances in the Opera House. At the Vienna premiere, one critic exclaimed to Eduard Hanslick, doyen and most acerbic of critics, that "it was the greatest work in German Music since Parsifal!", to which Hanslick replied, " Sadly, you are right."
It is not a work written for children- some recent UK stage productions have been very dark indeed-any more than the Grimm "Folk Tale" from which it came, and it is best approached by the listener by "buying in " to the innocent sentimentality which this endlessly tuneful work offers. I was prompted to this review by the release of the new Glyndebourne live recording, more of which anon, but I also belatedly purchased the Davis set at mid-price taking my tally of versions to 11, and it is with the Davis I propose to start.
Though now on Decca, this was a Philips recording and evinces the problems experienced by their recording team in the Lukaskirche Dresden venue so often in 80's and 90's, resulting in dry poorly balanced orchestral sound, which varies in quality throughout the set in a disconcerting manner.
At times there appear to be a single horn and rather tinny trumpet, and few first violins that are rather scratchy, and at other times the sound is fuller and better-though always dry. This is strange, as so many superb recordings have been made there, well before and after.
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It was this or the Pritchard, neither could be considered to be a bad choice and I think there is space for both. Whilst the Solti set looks attractive there is some pretty ropey horn playing in the overture which doesn't bode well, very surprising for the VPO but plainly audible. An excellent cast here and the orchestra has a real sense of purpose. My first 'Runnicles encounter' and very impressive it is too. Not quite the full-on sonic stage Decca sound but very worthy nonetheless. Worth considering and it does attract many accolades from the recorded music press.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta) (May include reviews from Early Reviewer Rewards Program)

Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars 1 review
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A grand account in lovely sound 20 Jun. 2012
By Ralph Moore - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Having recently written a comparative review of the three excellent sets recorded in the 70's and then been encouraged by fellow reviewer Sewart Crowe to try this more modern account, it seemed silly not to do so now that it has been re-issued very cheaply.

It is indeed an excellent version: it boasts the best sound so far, of course: rich and lush - in perfect accord with Runnicles' indulgent treatment of the score in what is evidently a Wagnerian manner which courts high seriousness - or at least, the mock heroic. This is by no means necessarily inappropriate; his longer line and grand phrasing, complemented by the sumptuous playing of the Bayerischen Rundfunks Orchestra, by no means excludes the charm and lightness of touch the music sometimes demands.

The singing is first rate, especially the contrast between Ziesak's sparkling, soaring, slender-voiced Gretel and Larmore's tougher, yet still velvety Hänsel, more boyish in the Fassbaender manner. They duet wonderfully. I have a few reservations about the parents; the growing bleat in Weikl's voice has aleady started making an unwelcome appearance in 1994 and neither he nor Hildegard Behrens are ideally steady but they characterise vividly and make a believeable pair, he presenting a kindly soul and she a care-worn mother who still retains a hint of mischief and fun in her. Both the cameo roles of Sandman and Dew Fairy are really sweetly sung but in a rather generic way which is less engaging than previous exponents such as Popp, Te Kanawa and Augér. Hannah Schwarz's witch is something of a tour de force without eclipsing memories of Ludwig or Södeström. Although I found all the vocal verstaility - cackling, whispering, intoning, wheedling, squawking and screaming - great fun, it can come across as a little self-conscious and "applied" - but I quibble; she really throws herself into a great comic-macabre role and rightly concentrates our attention upon the witch through her force of character.

Having the sweet, powerful, bell-like tones of Tölzer Knabenchor greatly adds to the pathos of the childrens' resurrection. This does not replace my favourite version by Eichhorn as I feel that still has the edge both for atmosphere and for the strength and subtlety of some key characterisations, such as Fischer-Dieskau's amiable father and above all Christa Ludwig's witch - her own choice for her best recorded performance - but you surely cannot go wrong with this more modern account.
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