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3 1/2 stars -- Wunderlich shines, but too much is plodding
on 24 March 2015
3.5 stars -- even though Fritz Wunderlich gives a six-star performance. I know it's the conventional wisdom, but his really is a piece of singing for the ages. Fischer-Dieskau's Papageno is wonderful too, but it's also available on the 10-years-older Fricsay recording, and that recording, which has pace, life, and energy is preferable to this one. I'm afraid that Bohm is the main problem -- his conducting is rhythmically alive and the sound is captured with attractive transparency, but it's just too slow. In fact, it's so slow that when you listen to Wunderlich in the scene with the speaker (Hans Hotter, good in the role), you realize that he's trying to push things along and bring some urgency to the proceedings, and it's kind of a shock. But soon we get to Sarastro's realm, and everything slows up again. To be fair, Wunderlich and Fischer-Dieskau are gifted enough to work expressively at this pace, and Friedrich Lenz (Monostatos) does OK too -- but the women's singing sounds labored and even, in Evelyn Lear's case, a bit unsure, and Franz Crass can't bring Sarastro to life. Greindl (for Fricsay) is preferable on both vocal and expressive grounds, as is Kurt Moll (for Haitink). And Haitink's women, Gruberova and Popp, are superior to Bohm's too -- in fact, that's the recording I would go to if you want something a bit more sedate than Fricsay, for it's beautifully sung and recorded (Jerusalem is Tamino), and it has the weight that Bohm likes without the deadening pace. If you want something historically informed, go for Abbado, with Pape, Strehl, Roschmann, and others.
I'm a Bohm fan usually -- his 1970's Beethoven set is superb, and his Bruckner and (other) Mozart are estimable -- but I'm afraid that this one just doesn't work for me. Will I keep it? Probably . . . but only for Wunderlich.