HARTMANN Simplicius Simplicissimus
The four recordings of Hartmann’s second opera between them present three different versions of the work. This latest issue uses the revised version of 1956 57, Simplicius Simplicissimus (subtitled ‘Three Scenes from his Youth’), as did Heinz Fricke’s 1985 recording on Wergo. The two others were released to mark Hartmann’s centenary in 2005. ArtHaus’s DVD conducted by Kwamé Ryan (1/08) is of the 1934 35 original, Der Simplicius Simplicissimus Jugend, structured in three acts and more scenes. BR-Klassik’s used Wilfried Hiller’s and Robert Klimesch’s reconstruction of the 1948 premiere, which included the 1939 Overture in homage to Prokofiev retained in 1957 (featured in Philip Clark’s Specialist’s Guide to Hartmann, 4/13).
Make no mistake, whichever version you prefer, this is no frothy confection derived from Grimmelshausen’s epic novel set in the time of the Thirty Years War such as that served up in the operetta by Johann Strauss (11/00, 7/03). Hartmann’s opera is viscerally powerful, a fast-paced attack on the tyranny and its deleterious impact on society and ordinary people. Hartmann’s target was the Third Reich, of course; but the tale of the innocent Simplicius and his encounters with the Landsknecht – menacingly sung here by Ashley Holland – who exploits him in scene 1, the Hermit who shelters him in scene 2 and the Governor who appoints him his jester in scene 3 translate as validly to later contexts, whether Pol Pot’s Cambodia, the tribal genocides in Rwanda and Darfur or ISIL’s barbarism happening now.
Julianne Banse possesses a purity of tone to match Helen Donath back in 1985, and a dramatic sensibility that contends with Claudia Mahnke (ArtHaus) or Camilla Nylund (BR-Klassik). Will Hartmann reprises the Hermit with fine feeling but the cast as a whole is excellent. Wergo’s set is currently unavailable but would be disadvantaged in terms of sound and polish by Stenz’s Netherlands Radio production. True, Wergo’s documentation was more valuable but frustratingly neither it nor Challenge Classics includes an English translation of the libretto. This is my only quibble of the new recording, however, which is the one to have.