R. Strauss Der Rosenkavalier
These issues are welcome additions to the all-too-small discography of Krauss as an opera conductor. They also chronicle the union on stage of Krauss and his wife Ursuleac, who together dominated the interpretation of their friend Richard Strauss’s works in the 1930s and early 1940s. Einhard Luther recalls in his note (regrettably only in German) to the Ariadne that Knappertsbusch called them the “Strauss Siamese twins” and that Ursuleac sang no fewer than 506 performances distributed among 11 Strauss roles.
The Ariadne, intermittently available on LP, has long been deleted. Previously credited to Stuttgart Radio, it now appears to have emanated from Berlin. Luther makes various suggestions as to why only the opera, not the Prologue, was transmitted; however that may be, it stands well enough on its own, especially in a version that Michael Kennedy in Opera on Record 3 (Hutchinson: 1984) avowed was notable for Krauss’s “spontaneously-sounding tempi, accurate playing and noble phrasing”, attributes that make this a version to set alongside Bohm’s three readings on disc.
Strauss once commented of Ursuleac that “everything I ever wrote for this type of voice seems to be made to measure for her”. That’s confirmed here in her full-toned, finely honed and easily accomplished account of the title-role (marred only by signs of tiring at the very end). Her reading lacks only that touch of smiling charisma and vulnerability Reining brings to the part on the famous Bohm/Vienna performance (also on Preiser) to mark Strauss’s eightieth birthday. An even better reason for acquiring the Krauss version is Roswaenge’s Bacchus – simply the best ever recorded. Where almost all other tenors seem to regard the role as something of a vocal test of endurance, Roswaenge sings it as though it were tailor-made for his refulgent, spinto voice: he sails over every difficulty without a moment of strain.
The young Berger is an alluring, keen-voiced Zerbinetta, showing just one or two moments of human frailty in the stratosphere. Karl Hammes, a Salzburg Giovanni, makes an ideally suave, warm Harlequin, and Korjus, herself a Zerbinetta, leads the trio of Ariadne’s attendants. The whole performance has an idiomatic feeling of dedication not available in these days of international singers, adept in many styles, totally master of very few.
The Rosenkavalier, long ago available on Vox LPs, is notable mainly for Krauss’s conducting and Weber’s classic Ochs. Krauss again reveals himself as the ideal Strauss conductor. With him there are no
Weber, as in his Decca recording of ten years later, revels in every aspect of his role without resort to exaggeration. He simply commands the opera with his larger-than-life, brilliantly enunciated, firmly sung portrayal – and what superb low notes he boasts! Ursuleac’s voice had deteriorated badly in the seven years since Ariadne: the vibrato had loosened, the breath control weakened. In any case her reading is stodgy, especially when set beside Reining’s for Erich Kleiber on the Decca set. The Croatian mezzo Milinkovic is an above-average though not great Octavian, mostly firm of tone. She is at her very best in the duets with the famous Sophie of Adele Kern, who remains a refined, charming soprano, but perhaps a mite past her prime. Still there are few Presentation scenes as lovely as this one (perhaps that of Schwarzkopf and Seefried later in the 1940s on EMI, 3/89) with Kern, Milinkovic and Krauss squeezing every drop of sweetness out of the music. Georg Hann is as characterful a Faninal as one could wish. This then is a set well worth a listen, part of the history of its performance. Preiser provide no note, not even in German, about its provenance.'