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CLASSICAL  February 2005

CLASSICAL February 2005

Subject:

Fidelio (Boehm; Furtwaengler) (Andante)

From:

Scott Morrison <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sun, 27 Feb 2005 19:31:37 -0600

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Beethoven: Fidelio (two complete recordings)
Boehm, 1944; Furtwaengler, 1953; Vienna State Opera
Andante 4CDs

5/5 stars

Two 'Fidelios': 5 Stars - Performances; 4 Stars -  Sound

The Andante label has been making some strange but interesting releases
lately.  Earlier they released, in the same box, two complete live
performances from Austrian radio of Verdi's 'Falstaff' (Toscanini, 1937;
Karajan, 1957, both from the Salzburg Festival); I didn't like them for
a number of reasons--you can read my review here at Amazon.  And this
one is two complete performances of Beethoven's 'Fidelio,' also from
Austrian radio and both from the Vienna State Opera.  I won't keep you
in suspense: I think both of them -- Boehm 1944; Furtwaengler 1953 --
are sensationally good.  Neither, as it happens, was actually recorded
in the Vienna State Opera House.  In 1944, towards the end of the War,
performances had been strictly curtailed at the Opera House so this
performance was recorded, and not all at the same time, in the Vienna
Konzerthaus.  Later in the War (March 1945) the Opera House was bombed
and nearly destroyed, so the 1953 performance was a live performance at
the Theater an der Wien where 'Fidelio' had been premiered in 1802.

As of this review Amazon has not listed the superb casts, so I will do
so here:

Boehm:
Don Fernando - Tomislav Nevalic
Pizarro - Paul Schoeffler
Florestan - Torsten Ralf
Leonore - Hilde Konetzni
Rocco - Herbert Alsen
Marzelline - Irmgard Seefried
Jaquino - Peter Klein
First Prisoner - Hermann Gallos
Second Prisoner - Hans Schweiger

Furtwaengler:
Don Fernando - Alfred Poell
Pizarro - Otto Edelmann
Florestan - Wolfgang Windgassen
Leonore - Martha Moedl
Rocco - Gottlob Frick
Marzelline - Sena Jurinac
Jaquino - Rudolf Schock
First Prisoner - Alwin Hendriks
Second Prisoner - Franz Bierbach

Some of these singers are not terribly well-known now, but there is not
a weak singer among them.  Particularly marvelous are the characterizations
and singing of, for Boehm, Ralf (heroic, stupendous), Schoeffler, Konetzni,
the delicious young Seefried, and Herbert Alsen; for Furtwaengler, Poell,
Edelmann, Windgassen, Moedl (years before her later notorious wobble
developed), Frick (was there ever a better Rocco?), Jurinac and Schock.
The latter was luxury casting; he usually was singing leading roles then
and later.  And, of course, Jurinac was special as Marzelline.  Together
they made a couple who didn't seem the usual naive young lovers, but
rather they sounded like adults.  Furtwaengler made that much more
possible because of the way he conducted the first half of Act I.  Tempi
were a bit slower there, and dynamics were softer, more considered than
is usual.  And when he came to the Quintet (from 'Gut, Soehnchen, gut'
onward through 'Mir ist so wunderbar') he slows down ever further (a
full minute longer for that section than Boehm) and an angelic radiance
envelops the ensemble.

Boehm's approach is more no-nonsense than Furtwaengler's, although his
handling of the final moments, from 'O namenlose Freude' to the end, is
actually both more exciting and more emotionally touching, at least for
me.  As to performances of the score's 'big' numbers, there is little
to choose from.  I liked both performances of Leonore's 'Komm, Hoffnung'
and Florestan's 'In des Lebens Fruehlingstagen.' The chorus seems slightly
stronger in the earlier performance.  The orchestra in both instances
is, well, the Vienna Philharmonic; what can I say?  Fabulous.  The horns
in Leonore's aria are sensational.  Both performances include the 'Leonore
No. 3' Overture before the final scene.

What about the sound?  Well, considering the dates of these recordings,
the sound in both performances is much more than acceptable.  I was
completely unaware, after the first few moments, of any dating of the
sound.  I will admit, of course, that my attention was much more on the
performances and the music itself than on the sound.  Obviously, neither
of these performances would be a first choice for a recording for someone
coming to the opera for the first time.  It think most people still agree
that the best studio recording ever made was the one conducted by Klemperer
in stereo in 1962 (with Jon Vickers and Christa Ludwig) and there have
been more modern recordings (in more modern sound) by Boehm (his last
'Fidelio' recorded in 1978, with James King and Hildegarde Behrens) and
Maazel (1964, James McCracken, Birgit Nilsson).

This set is a bit pricey.  But this is also the only way to get these
performances as they'd never been released before.  They are good enough
to join the pantheon of great recordings of Beethoven's opera.  I for
one am not going to part with this set easily.  I've been wallowing in
it for the past few days and don't seem to be able to move on to anything
else.

Review at
   http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0006PV5ZI/classicalnetA/

Scott Morrison

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