This is an outstanding recording benefiting from Klemperer's masterful interpretation and Anja Silja's great portrayal of Senta. The recording quality is amazing since it was remastered from vynal discs of circa 1968 vintage.
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I agree with those who love this recording. It is worth pointing out that, in this performance, Klemperer uses elements of Wagner's first version. He concludes the Overture and the whole opera with three loud chords and leaves out the depiction of 'transfiguration' which may be more familiar, especially to those used to hearing the overture played as a concert piece. However, while Wagner originally planned the work to be played in a single span (cf Das Rheingold), Klemperer follows a later tradition of dividing the music into three Acts.
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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The highlight of this recording has to be Klemperer's conducting. Until I bought this set I knew nothing of the work except the Overture, and it's interesting to hear what Wagner was writing at this stage of his development, some of it looking forward to the mature masterpieces, other parts surprisingly conventional operatic fare of the time, which makes his ultimate achievement all the more remarkable. This doesn't alter the fact that the 'Dutchman' is a fascinating work in its' own right.This performance has been highly praised, with an excellent cast of singers, first-rate recording, and the brooding presence of Klemperer evoking the menacing atmosphere of the North Sea. His performance of the Overture alone is worth the very reasonable price.
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