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Customer reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
Humperdinck: Hansel und Gretel
Format: Audio CD|Change
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on 23 January 2013
A truly engaging opera superbly performed. This is fascinating music, as interesting in its borrowings as in its originality. The story - which is more integral than average to the experience - is carried forward beautifully.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 14 June 2012
All three of these excellent analogue studio recordings were made in the heyday of the 70's when there was still a market for such things; I own and enjoy them all so I thought it might be helpful to make comparison across all three to assist anyone wanting only one on their shelves. I found, to my surprise, that my old allegiance to the Solti set needed reconsideration.

First, all three have great merits and all are in excellent sound although the earliest - the RCA set from 1971 is the cleanest and clearest, with the Solti coming next and the Sony a clear third owing to some slight cloudiness and lack of detail compared with the other two. I particularly like the touch of reverb surrounding the witch's "Hokus-pokus" for Eichhorn and its higher recording sound level of gives more lift to proceedings - as indeed does Eichhorn's conducting, which is the most alert, animated and responsive of the three. Solti adopts a rather grand, Wagnerian manner which is a tad static while Pritchard's literal direction constitutes that recording's greatest weakness; he fails to find the lift and colour in the score so ably brought out by Eichhorn. You have only to listen to the great orchestral set pieces such as the Prelude, the Pantomime or the Witch's Ride to hear how stiff and stolid both Pritchard and even Solti are alongside Eichhorn's lift, flexibility and drive.

Regarding the singing, I was struck afresh by the aptness of the casting for Eichhorn. The contrast between Moffo's darker, boyish Hänsel and Donath's crystal-voiced Gretel is perfect. All three sibling pairings are delightful: Pritchard has two of the loveliest voices ever to grace a stage in Frederica Von Stade and Ileana Cotrubas, whose oboe tone and plangent sweetness combine with melting beauty; they are especially touching in their duet before settling down to sleep in the open. I found Solti's pair too mature: Fassbaender is just a little blowsy as Hänsel and Popp too sophisticated and glamorous in timbre for the child Gretel. Popp is much more aptly cast as the Dew Fairy for Eichhorn.

Similarly, Christa Ludwig is better cast as the Witch in 1971: she is the funniest and the most engaging without resorting to the hammy excesses of Anny Schlemm for Solti - nor does she have Schlemm's wobble. Södeström is wheedling, clever and subtle for Pritchard; no mugging but reliant upon a wide variety of vocal colours without sacrificing vocal quality.

While I am often no fan of the recently deceased Fischer-Dieskau, I readily concede his superiority to a bluff Walter Berry and a slightly barking but jolly Nimsgern as the father; his famous word-painting really brings this likeable character alive. Solti's mother, Julia Hamari, is a little bland and Ludwig is too much the shrill harridan for Pritchard whereas Eichhorn's less well-known Charlotte Berthold represents the happy medium between those two extremes.

The three singers playing the Sandman are all delightful but Te Kanawa is almost too aloof and exquisite while Norma Burrowes is a little ordinary in comparison with Arleen Augér's bell-like purity. Solti's Dew Fairy is a rather hyper Edita Gruberova, Pritchard has the charming Ruth Welting and Eichhorn the aforementioned Lucia Popp, who, again, just gives Eichhorn the edge over the others.

Ultimately, therefore, despite the beauties of the singing for Pritchard and the grandeur of the playing for Solti, I find that the vintage Eichhorn set combines the greatest number of virtues in a recording that is rather brisker than the other too by some six minutes, reflecting his tautness and overall care for shaping compared with Solti's somewhat lax spaciousness and Pritchard's four-square literalism. There is a directness and honesty about Eichhorn's account which strikes me as being truest to the fairy-tale simplicity of this gorgeous opera.
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on 16 December 2008
The great glory of Solti's Hansel und Gretel is the Vienna Philharmonic. They play with persuasive abandon in both the lyrical and the melodramatic music, and the Wagner-style orchestration of the piece is given to the full. For some listeners this may all be too much. If you want sentiment and charm you may have to go elsewhere. Fassbaender and Popp as the children sound womanly, Schlemm as the Witch sounds like a pantomime vamp - but then it depends what you want from this opera. Walter Berry as the Father turns in one of his most likeable performances on disc. Strange as it is that the high-quality casting doesn't deliver as much realism as it might, the symphonic strength immerses you immediately in the composer's unique sound-world: and this wonderful orchestra hold your attention from the opening bars of the Vorspiel to the final chorale of the liberated children. Definitely worth considering for the hi-tech sound.
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Thia is, perhaps, the very best recording of Hansel and Gretrel still on the market. Apart from the superb technical quality of the recording iteslf, the names of those who sing the various roles reads like a list of the best possible mix of voices for a work so beautifully written and performed. Solti's genius is more than enhanced by the Vienna Philharmoic and the Vienna Boys Choir's unique quality completes the rich range of performed music.

Walter Berry's "Peter" finds every conceivable variation essential,from the unthreatening begining to the joy at the final rescue; and the exquisite "prayer" sung by Lucia Popp as Gretel and Brigitte Fassbender as Hansel is worthy the repeating time and again.

I commend this heartily (if a touch sentimentally)as worth every musical moment.

Anthony Austin

The Set your Pen name box failed to respond.
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