B.Goldschmidt Der gewaltige Hahnrei
There are three causes for rejoicing here. Firstly that Der gewaltige Hahnrei (''The magnificent cuckold'') has been rediscovered at last; successfully premiered in Mannheim in 1932, scheduled for a prestige production in Berlin the year after, it and its composer's career were victims of the rise of the Nazis. Berthold Goldschmidt, after his emigration to Britain, earned the respect and the affection of many musicians in this country, but along with most of his other compositions his opera was ignored and forgotten. A second reason for jubilance is that Goldschmidt, after nearly 60 years of philosophically-borne neglect, is not only still with us to enjoy his reinstatement, but vigorous enough to be still composing (after a discouraged silence during his sixties and seventies) and looking forward to the first staged performance of Der gewaltige Hahnrei for 62 years. Thirdly and best of all the opera is masterly. In its vivid characterization, its dramatic use of pungent orchestral colour and sinewy counterpoint and its gripping narrative thrust it is an achievement all the more remarkable for a first opera by a composer then in his twenties.
The central character, Bruno, is an obsessive as repellent yet compulsively fascinating as Hindemith's Cardillac. He is a man so jealous of his submissive, adoring wife that he suspects every available man of being her secret lover, is so tormented by doubt that he compels her to commit adultery so that he will at least be certain of that, and ends by forcing her into the arms of a would-be rapist. His obsession is portrayed by a powerfully cumulative use of, as one might expect, ostinato figures, but this grim portrayal of mounting monomania is given poignant context by the tenderly lyrical, indeed chaste music of Bruno's wife, Stella, and by the ardour (including a noble entrance theme) associated with his sympathetic friend Petrus. The secondary characters are just as sharply defined; so is the chorus of neighbours, maliciously enjoying the scandal, righteously demanding punishment. Goldschmidt's language is tonal but bony; those who know the music of his teacher Schreker better than I do may hear echoes of it; others may detect an occasional kinship (scarcely attributable to influence) with Weill, Shostakovich or Prokofiev. But it is undoubtedly a personal voice, the voice of one acquainted with atonality (Goldschmidt had coached some of the singers and played the celeste in the first performance of Wozzeck) but no more inclined to adopt it than the exotic, over-rich late romanticism still in vogue in many circles in Germany at the time. In fact the assurance of his style is almost as impressive a feature of this opera as its swift-moving, murderously ironic dramaturgy.
So often when a work of real quality is rediscovered one has to make a few apologies for the performance. Not in this case. Alexander sings her heart out as the cruelly treated Stella, and as a result quite avoids the risk that she will appear a mere faceless victim. Worle, very properly a Loge rather than a Siegfried, acts shrewdly as well as singing incisively; so does the more lyrical Petzold, grateful for Goldschmidt's differentiation of the two quite dissimilar tenor roles. Kraus seizes all the many opportunities to make Petrus a rounded character as well as a gift of a part for a lyric baritone. It is a tribute as much to Goldschmidt as to the singers to say that even in quite brief roles Lawrence, Otelli, Wottrich and Kapellmann all make very positive contributions to the drama. Each of them is there for a purpose, and so is the pithily characterful music given to each of them. The concise economy of this opera is one of the reasons for its power.
The Mediterranean Songs date from nearly 30 years later, and for those encountering Goldschmidt's music for the first time they will be an encouraging indication that three decades of neglect had not soured his lyricism. They are rich and delicate, eloquent evocations of the Mediterranean world, scored with great refinement and with vocal lines of a grateful amplitude. Ainsley sings them beautifully, with care for words (Goldschmidt sets English as eloquently as he does German) as well as smoothness of line. Zagrosek is throughout a powerful advocate for Goldschmidt's music, sensitive to its poignancy (the end of the opera is quite haunting) as well as its formidable strength. To me this is the most important issue so far in Decca's imaginative Entartete Musik series: a major rediscovery, and all those involved seem urgently convinced of it.'