HUMPERDINCK: Haensel und Gretel (Complete Opera) – cond. by Fitz Lehmann (1953) – Preiser

by | Nov 3, 2005 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

HUMPERDINCK: Haensel und Gretel (Complete Opera) – Horst
Guenter, baritone/ Marianne Schech, soprano/ Gisela Litz,
mezzo-soprano/ Rita Streich, soprano/ Res Fischer, alto/ Elisabeth
Lindermeier, soprano/ Bruno Brueckmann, soprano/ Munich Philharmonic
and Children’s Choir Wittelsbacher Gymansiums and Women’s Choir of the
Bavarian Radio/ Fritz Lehmann, conductor – Preiser 20043 mono, 57:16;
41:00 (Distrib. Albany) *****:

Ever since its premier in 1893, Engelbert Humperdinck’s opera Hansel
and Gretel has been hailed as a masterpiece, a work of art thoroughly
ingrained in the mythos of the Brothers Grimm and the musical syntax of
Richard Wagner, but proceeding without heaviness or pedantry in a
sublime alchemy of childhood and German singspiel, or what the composer
called “Maerchenspiel.” Much of the orchestration derives from
Humperdinck’s absolute veneration for Wagner’s Parsifal and likely, as
in the Prelude to Act III, influenced Mahler.  In a sense,
however, Humperdinck is the heir not so much of the Wagner tradition as
he is of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, with its ingenuous brilliance.
Conductor Fritz Lehmann (d. 1956) assembled a tight-knit, talented cast
of singers and a thoroughly responsive orchestra to produce (for DGG,
1953) a marvelous rendition of this opera, an excellent alternative to
the Karajan inscription which long dominated the field.

Many of Lehmann’s hand-picked cast members were long associates of his
in the many Bach cantata recordings he also made for DGG. Each of the
sopranos has her own timbre and provides a natural characterization,
like Elisabeth Lindermeier’s melting Sandman in Act II. The comparison
with Schwarzkopf’s voice is as inevitable as it is apt. The
slumber-duet is pure magic. The opening sequences, with Gisela Litz
(using wonderful chest-tone to capture prepubescent Hansel) and the
young Rita Streich’s cavorting in bubbling triplets, has me replaying
Act I repeatedly. Horst Guenter’s father, Peter, shines in his Scene
II, his naïve return home after the children have already wandered into
the woods. The ensemble in Act III is seamless to perfection, with its
vocal elasticity and economy of musical means. The entrance of Res
Fischer is as full of restrained malice as Angela Lansbury’s
performance in The Manchurian Candidate. Her “Hokuspokus, Hexenschuss”
has the inflated pomp of Frank Morgan’s Wizard of Oz. All of these and
more wondrous musical moments are directed with luxurious affection by
Fritz Lehmann, a consistently underrated conductor whose time has long
been overdue. Excellent sound restoration. Recommended!

– Gary Lemco

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