Hilde Gueden, soprano = Sel. by MOZART, PUCCINI, VERDI, R. STRAUSS, COWARD, NOVELLO – Var. orch. – Nimbus (2 CDs)

by | Jul 20, 2009 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Hilde Gueden = MOZART: Arias from Don Giovanni, Die Zauberfloete. Le Nozze di Figaro, Idomeneo, Il Re Pastore; Exsultate, Jubilate Motet, K.165; VERDI: Arias from La Traviata, Rigoletto, Falstaff; PUCCINI: “Quando men vo”; Turandot: 2 Arias; R. STRAUSS: Der Rosenkavalier: Act 3 Final Trio and diet; 13 Songs; COWARD: Songs from Bittersweet, Private Lives, Conversation Piece; NOVELLO: Songs from Glamorous Night, Careless Rapture, The Dancing Years, King’s Rhapsody – Hilde Gueden, soprano/Vienna Philharmonic/Josef Krips/Karl Bohm/Erich Kleiber/Clemens Krauss/ Alberto Erede/Orchestra of the Academia di Santa Cecilia, Rome/ Alberto Erede; Friedrich Gulda, piano/Stanley Black and his Chorus and Orchestra (Coward)

Nimbus Records Prima Voce NI 7952/3 (2-CDs), 78:48, 78:58 [Distr. by Allegro] ****:

When the litany of great singers occupies our thoughts, let us not forget Austrian soprano Hilde Gueden (nee Geiringer, 1917-1988) whose fabulously tender voice conductor Clemens Krauss first discovered in 1941. Gueden would be to the Vienna Opera and operetta what Uta Hagen was to the theater: an astonishingly versatile charming and physically attractive star, naturally suited to the mainstream soprano roles, with a specialty in Mozart, Strauss, and light opera and operetta. She became the youngest recipient of the title Kammersaengerin, Court Singer, from the city of her birth, Vienna. The conductors alone on these two discs read like a Hall of Fame in music, each eager to utilize her flexible lustrous voice to full advantage in the repertory of which she reigned with the likes of Stader, Reining, Seefried, and Welitsch.

Gueden first presents us her youthful and ardent Mozart, opening with Zerlina’s “Batti, batti, o bei Masetto” from Don Giovanni (with Krips, 1952). The ease of transition, the light buoyancy of the tone immediately seizes us. The poise between recitativo or parlando passagework and the coloratura cantilenas maintains such a seamlessly clear line that Gueden seems born to the task: witness the measured plasticity of “Giunse alfin il momento” from Le Nozzi di Figaro (with Kleiber, 1955). Krauss himself leads Gueden in an excerpt from Mozart’s Idomeneo, a tender farewell in the name of patriotic honor. Whether the flute or Gueden proves more lyrical is anyone’s bet. The sudden swells in the voice rival the French horn and wake us from whatever musical complacencies we thought we had earned. The aria from Il Re Pastore (with Erede, 1952) features a lovely violin obbligato to accompany Gueden’s elevated, comely vocal brilliance. From the same session with Erede we benefit from the complete motet, Exsultate, Jubilate, which, despite the many facile flourishes and soaring stratospheric moments prior, has us panting for her final Alleluia. Erede takes it a touch marcato, allowing Gueden a measured gradual ascent, her timbre assuming various degrees of rapture.

Gueden’s forays into Italian music begin with Verdi’s “Ah! for’s e lui. . .Sempre libera,” Violetta’s insistence–in spite of the need for love–on her declaration of emotional freedom. Collectors will compare Gueden’s urgent gestures to self-deception with those uttered with equal flexibility of tone by Bidu Sayao.  The airy tone, the trills, the floating, ascent of her swooping, high notes, each element competes with the best of Callas and Tebaldi, even more musically secure. The urge to liberality becomes a mock-tarantella or frenzied waltz of great character. Gueden’s “Caro nome” from Rigoletto burns the brief candle of innocence, deliciously paced, the scales molded with pearls of light. Gueden had played Gilda to Tito Gobbi’s Jester at Covent Garden. Her extended duet with Aldo Protti, “Tutte le feste. . .Si vendetta,” immediately creates a sympathetic, tragic bond between daughter and outraged father, a call for mercy in the midst of bloody rancor. From a different, more pleasant, emotional plane, we have Nannetta’s delicate “Sul fil d’un soffio etesio” from the last act of Falstaff, more tolerant of the foibles in human nature. From Puccini’s La Boheme, we hear the finale from Act II, beginning with a captivating Musetta’s Waltz, in which Gueden can confront talents of equal girth in Giacinto Prandelli, Giovanni Inghilleri, Franco Corena and Renata Tebaldi. The martial sequence that follows would have us believe Puccini stole notes from Bizet’s L’Arlesienne. This was the first LP incarnation of the complete opera, 13 July 1951. We end the Italian excursion with two of servant Liu’s poignant arias from Puccini’s Turandot, the first the heartbreaking “Signore, ascolta.” “Tu che di gel sei cinta” conveys at once meekness and inner strength, ending with a huge sigh of resignation.

Richard Strauss had himself addressed Gueden as “My Sophie,” an allusion to her performances in Der Rosenkavalier: here, she joins Alfred Poell, Maria Reining and Sena Jurinac in a spectacular romantic display of high coloratura virtuosity, lavishly conducted by Erich Kleiber, from June 1954. A set of thirteen Strauss songs, recorded September 1956 with Friedrich Gulda, complements the glistening Rosenkavalier finale: in “Einerleim” Op. 69, No. 3, we can hear the suave intelligent sliding vocal style that made Gueden an ideal Jennie Smith in Weill’s The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. So, too, “Schlechtes Wetter,” Op. 69, No. 5 catches the Viennese sarcasm mixed with romantic ardor in a style that anticipates Weill, Krenek, and Berg. For a treatment in watercolors, try “Als mir dein Lied erklang,” Op. 68, No. 4, with its soaring tessitura, an ardor for which we must wait until the Four Last Songs to repeat. For the quality of dreams, lullabies, and romantic yearning, we have “Freundliche Vision,” “Die Nacht,” “Heimkehr,” and “Befreit,” the last eliciting keyboard purrs from Gulda. If ever Strauss could sound like Grieg, the lied, “Wie sollten wir geheim sie halten,” Op. 19, No. 4 captures the rustle of spring. The extended group concludes with “Meinen Kinde,” Op. 37, No. 3, a virtual envelope or cocoon of warmth to surround whatever innocence still persists in this world.

Gueden made a successful transition to the vocal world of British drawing-room comedy, the sophisticates Noel Coward and Ivor Novello (rec. 17-26 November 1957). Her Viennese lilt admirably suits the romantic ethos behind the world-weariness, her voice a combination of Kay Kendall and Miliza Korjus. A continental savvy infuses each song, liberally sprinkled with high notes and passing flourishes. Coward’s “Zigeuner” fuses British urbanity with the natural gypsy filigree endemic to Lehar and Kalman. Her masterly English diction, recall, won her the role of Anne Trulove for the American premier of Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress (14 February 1953). Novello’s “Glamorous Night,” with assisting chorus and drooling violins, gives us the whole kitchen sink of cinemascope effects, the British music-hall in spades. “Music in May” adds harp and bird effects, the waltz between the spring weather and the lover’s heart, as “new rapture is dawning.” Novello imitates Lehar rather brilliantly with “The waltz of my heart,” from The Dancing Years, the aerial mix so thick, it could have served a Disney animated feature’s love-scene. Gueden sings of her waking heart and notes “The violin began to play” to end her Novello group, but I suspect her own voice has provided the Stradivarius to our ears all along. Spectacular, from first to last notes!

[This Nimbus series uses an unusual approach to reissuing old 78s – playing them on a refurbished acoustic gramophone with a morning-glory horn and then re-recording them Ambisonically in the studio…Ed.]

–Gary Lemco

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