Lisa Della Casa sings Richard Strauss

Author: 
Alan Blyth

Lisa Della Casa sings Richard Strauss

  • Ariadne auf Naxos
  • (4) Lieder, No. 4, Morgen (wds. J H Mackay: orch 1897)
  • (5) Kleine Lieder, No. 3, Einerlei (wds. A von Arnim)
  • (5) Kleine Lieder, No. 5, Schlechtes Wetter (wds. Heine)
  • (8) Lieder, No. 1, Waldseligkeit (wds. Dehmel: 1901, orch 1918
  • (4) Lieder, No. 3, Hat gesagt - bleibt's nicht dabei (Des Knaben Wunderhorn: 1898)
  • (6) Lieder, No. 1, Seitdem dein Aug' in meines schaute
  • (5) Lieder, No. 4, Befreit (wds. Dehmel: orch 1933)
  • Salome

''Bohmerl'' was Strauss's endearing diminutive for the conductor who did most to propagate the composer's music during his lifetime and thereafter. If Bohm wasn't conducting the premiere of a work in Dresden he was giving the first performance in some other centre. So it is entirely appropriate that, to mark the centenary of Bohm's birth, DG have issued a magnificent box of nine Strauss operas as interpreted by him including four invaluable live performances, all from the Salzburg Festival, never available before except on dim 'private' issues. As a welcome pendant, Preiser restore to the catalogue the enthralling 1944 Ariadne from Vienna, given to mark Strauss's eightieth birthday with the composer present.
In his essay accompanying the Salome set, the veteran Viennese critic, Franz Endler, writes that one ''stops thinking about the 'interpretation' or the 'maestro' after the third bar, and thinks only of the music'' adding: ''Of how many conductors of the last two decades of the 20th century can one say that?''. The point is well made because there is a kind of an inevitability and rightness about Bohm's Strauss that wholly avoids self-indulgence. Some may regret that he makes the traditional theatre cuts, but as Strauss presumably approved of these who are we to demur?
Of course, the 'new' recordings must claim prime attention. Close to my heart is the 1969 Rosenkavalier as it was the first opera I ever saw at Salzburg. At the time I wrote glowingly of the interpretation, which had been treated coolly in the local press familiar with Karajan's reading. I was pleased to hear that the performance, given for Bohm's seventy-fifth birthday, lived up to memories. His pacing of the work is swift and unerring, never indulging the music or his singers yet the Vienna Philharmonic under his acute eye and ear misses not a whit of the work's comedy or romantic ardour.
Christa Ludwig's Marschallin, heard here to greater advantage in the theatre than on the studio-made Bernstein set (Sony, 9/88), is at once charming, witty and moving, and she sings with the expected warmth and verbal subtlety, only the Act 3 trio taxing her on high. Troyanos's vibrant mezzo and palpitating style is near-ideal for Octavian and she blends perfectly with Edith Mathis's firm, silvery Sophie: both the Presentation of the Rose, the later duet in Act 2 and the finale are sung with a loving unity of tone and phrasing wonderful to hear. Theo Adam, perhaps surprisingly, is a jovial Ochs, not as ripe or expansive as some but well within the framework of a heady performance, all the better for being heard live.
The 1947 Arabella, just as arresting, is particularly important as Bohm never broached the opera again. Once more hardly a hint of sentimentality is allowed to impede this half romantic, half cynical tale. Lisa della Casa here burst on to the international scene with a delightful Zdenka. Later she was to become the Arabella of her day, but even she never achieved quite the warmth and feeling disclosed here by Maria Reining, so inside the part, so capable of conveying Arabella's inner soul, and in the final scene she is simply glorious as Arabella forgives her impetuous Mandryka in one of Strauss's most heartfelt passages. But then this Arabella has Hotter as an ideal Mandryka, even if he has to transpose down a passage or two in Act 3. He suggests to the life the bluff, tempestuous countryman, deeply moving when he finds in Arabella his ideal woman, appropriately Wotan-like in his fury when he imagines himself betrayed by her. How cleverly Hotter alternates between Lieder-like lyricism and Wagnerian declamation. He is in magnificent voice throughout. Horst Taubmann, a lyric tenor who had all-too-short a career, is an appealing Matteo. The support, including Viennese stalwarts such as Anday, Patzak, Poell and Hann, emphasizes the ensemble nature of the performance.
The 1947 radio tape has its drawbacks. The brass seem to be having an off-night, the sound of the sopranos occasionally distant, there is a deal of pre- or post-echo and applause breaks in inopportunely. Then DG are to be reprimanded for publishing a photo captioned ''Maria Reining'' when the character is obviously the Fiakermilli. None of that dimmed my enjoyment of a performance brimming with dedication and idiomatic life.
Hotter is again one of the stars of the 1959 Schweigsame Frau, an opera of which Bohm gave the premiere in 1936 under inauspicious circumstances (here he conducts it lightly, engagingly). As the noise-hating Sir Morosus, Hotter shows his amazing versatility (at this time he was also tackling Gurnemanz) and his ability to cope with the detail of Zweig's brilliant libretto, the wittiest and most amusing Strauss ever set. Hotter finds a calm, warm legato for the quiet solos that end Acts 2 and 3 and for the plaintive love duet with Aminta, so soon to make Morosus's life an obstreperous hell on earth, and the power for his outbursts of incontinent outrage. As Sir Henry, Morosus's equivocal nephew, Fritz Wunderlich discloses, for the first time at Salzburg, his sappy tone and immaculate style. His Aminta is the delightful Hilde Gueden, who sings the Norina-like part with charm and brilliance. Altogether we learn here why Strauss had such a deep affection for this piece.
Gueden is one of the main assets of the 1954 Ariadne, singing Zerbinetta with as much accuracy and a fuller tone than most of her rivals on CD in an attractively insouciant interpretation. As for Karajan (EMI, 4/88) a year or two later and for Bohm in 1944, Seefried is as winning a Composer as any. Schock, also Karajan's Bacchus, is equal to the stringent demands of the part and sings it with panache. Della Casa's Ariadne has inborn grace and musicality, but she yields in warmth and understanding to Reining on the 1944 performance. Bohm and the Vienna Philharmonic are also in more ebullient and compelling form ten years earlier, perhaps because of the frisson of the birthday occasion or the challenge of playing in wartime.
The young Seefried is there an even more impetuous Composer, Lorenz an even more fervent Bacchus than Schock: indeed his and Reining's account of the final scene has never been surpassed. Alda Noni is a mercurial, spirited Zerbinetta. Schoeffler, Music Master in both, shows little change in an endearing assumption, but the four commedia dell'arte singers of 1944, led by Kunz's mellifluous Harlequin, are superior to their rusty 1954 successors, Murray Dickie's fleet Brighella apart. Surprisingly the 1944 version is actually better recorded than the 1954. It is a 'must' for all Straussians. For best sound quality of all in the final duet you need the della Casa/Schock version on Testament where della Casa's shining voice comes over clearly. She is also represented by several Strauss songs showing off her fine-grained singing to perfection.
The Daphne stems from a live 1964 Vienna Festival performance. I find this the least involving of Strauss's later operas, although it contains some typically beautiful writing for the soprano voice in the title-part. Here it is sung by Gueden, in the third of recommendable assumptions on this issue but she isn't quite a match for Reining, Daphne at the Vienna premiere in 1942. King copes with most of the inordinate demands of Apollo's part, even greater than those of Bacchus, and Wunderlich is again in pristine form, here as Leukippos.
The 1971 Capriccio, a famous performance, hardly needs new commendation. It stands on a par with the Sawallisch, but is better recorded. It captures the glorious Janowitz voice in its prime. Her lovely Countess Madeleine is supported by portrayals of a comparative stature, all woven together by Bohm in to a skein of harmonious sound finely recorded. Listening over a short period to all these works, one hears the interesting correlation and development of Strauss's conversational style from Rosenkavalier, through Ariadne and Die schweigsame Frau to its distillation in Capriccio, and wonders anew at his prolific invention.
In the other three works we hear Strauss the master of the larger canvas. The Salome is the least satisfactory performance. Bohm's and the orchestra's contribution is dimly heard and in any case the Hamburg orchestra is less responsive to his beat than their Viennese contemporaries. Dame Gwyneth Jones has her moments of sensuous, sensual urgency in the title-role but her singing is uneven. Fischer-Dieskau tends to hector as Jokanaan and Cassilly is an over-strenuous Herod. Could not Bohm's 1972 performance in Vienna with Rysanek have been unearthed: it has been in circulation? I have praised the 1961 studio Elektra recently enough not to repeat myself except to say that Bohm offers a thought-through, taut, unexaggerated reading, Inge Borkh a classic account of the title-part worthily supported, particularly by Jean Madeira's tense, compelling Clytemnestra.
Die Frau ohne Schatten, from a Vienna performance of 1977, not released until 1985, enshrines a classic cast of that day. Although, truth to tell, caught a bit too late, Nilsson's eloquent Dyer's Wife, Berry's genial Barak and Rysanek's famously soaring, intense Emperess remain worth hearing. This doesn't surpass Bohm's outstanding Decca set of 1955, not least because the cuts there are less severe than here.
Taken as a whole the issue is an invaluable record, and will become more so as the years go by, in how to conduct Strauss's operas with a due care for pacing, sonority and balance—and above all for creating the elatory, life-giving spirit that permeates them all. Strauss loved his creations and Bohm was instrumental in conveying his mentor's wishes.'

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