Julius Patzak - The Early Operatic Recordings, 1929-38
Here are the two issues celebrating Patzak’s centenary that answer the plea of our reader in his letter (July, page 8); they are fit tributes to a great artist. The first one comprises 42 tracks recorded from 1929 to 1938 and includes all Patzak’s operatic recordings for Grammophon, plus arias from the Bach Passions once available in the UK on Decca-Polydor 10-inch 78s. From the start of the very first track – Alfredo’s aria from Act 2 of Traviata, made in 1929 – we hear that peculiar and deeply eloquent Patzak manner, getting right inside the text (sung in German, as are all these items bar a delicate “Una furtiva lagrima”, done in Italian) to convey Alfredo’s thoughts and emotions. That’s even more in evidence for the recitative to Gustaf’s Act 3 aria from Ballo, where Patzak conveys better than any other tenor I have heard, in those plangent accents of his, the pain the King feels at having to send his beloved Amelia abroad with her husband to avoid further emotional complications.
In both these cases the aria itself is then voiced with a sense of the specific shaping and shading of words to the music in hand that few of his Italian counterparts achieve. The same is true of other Italian arias here and also of those from the French repertory. Few Hoffmanns – Tauber perhaps – have sung the character’s aria from the Venetian act of Offenbach’s opera with such heady, erotic sensuousness, while the Kleinzack aria evinces the singer’s gifts in character music. Wilhelm Meister’s “Adieu”, both Des Grieux’s arias and Don Jose’s Flower song also receive the benefit of Patzak’s sensitive and finely honed art. It’s the same in Slavonic repertory: Lensky’s sorrow has seldom been so heart-achingly expressed – the repeat of the opening phrase quite arresting – nor Jenik’s passion.
My first encounter with Patzak’s work was in Ferrando’s first aria, the subtly etched phrases etched correspondingly and indelibly in my mind, and it is as a Mozartian that Patzak was so admired in the 1930s and 1940s: souvenirs of his Belmonte, Tamino (my favourite version of the “Bildnis” aria, surpassing even that of Wunderlich) and Don Ottavio tell us why in the ultimate refinement of legato and tonal purity. And don’t miss his lyrical Walther, Fenton’s aria from Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor or, indeed, the inwardness of the two Bach offerings. The excellence of Grammophon recording in pre-war days is confirmed in the wonderful presence of the voice heard in these faultless transfers.
The companion CD of Lieder is taken from Michael Raucheisen’s wartime Lied-Edition. Patzak was one of the first singers to uncover the wealth of then-forgotten Schubert and here shows just why he was so famous in this field. Again there is that care over words and subtlety of phrasing even if the voice itself by 1943 had lost some of its earlier bloom – but then one listens to Brahms’s An die Nachtigall and wonders if it has ever been sung so sweetly, with such sadness in the tone. Wolf’s Bei einer Trauung and Abschied once more indicate Patzak’s gifts of characterization. The transfers, from early tape, are again faultless – but why can’t this estimable company provide fuller background information in their notes? Don’t let that put you off hearing these imaginative, unrepeatable performances. '