Strauss, J II (Der) Ziguenerbaron, 'The Gypsy Baron'
Though recorded mostly in the spring of 1954, this classic recording was not released until over four years later. Hence the delay in Naxos adding it to the other operettas recorded by EMI producer Walter Legge around the same time. In his accompanying notes, Malcolm Walker quotes at some length from the original review in the October 1958 issue of Gramophone. In it Philip Hope-Wallace writes enthusiastically, declaring that “at all testing points Schwarzkopf simply outsings [her rivals]”, and referring especially to “that delightful comic artist Erich Kunz”. His one major cavil seems to have been over Nicolai Gedda’s Barinkay – “perhaps a little over-elegant… an almost effete aristocrat”. Well, maybe so. But what glorious tenor tone one gets from the young Gedda!
It’s a tribute to Hope-Wallace’s perception that his judgement has stood the test of time so well. What might not be expected is that his overall comment that “this is the best of the complete Gypsy Barons to date; better recording, better singing, and better…ensemble” is virtually as true today. Sure, there have been recordings with more modern sound. However, Der Zigeunerbaron has not been over-favoured by the recording companies, and certainly no successor has matched this version as an aural experience. There are downward transitions of the comic baritone roles to accord with Viennese tradition, and the recording is by no means strictly complete. Yet none of that matters much in the light of the glories of the performance.
The recording is already available on CD from EMI itself (4/01), and if you want a libretto you may wish to go for that alternative. However, I detect nothing at all inferior in Mark Obert-Thorn’s digital restoration for Naxos, who offer not just a lower price but some enjoyable fillers. Besides Elisabeth Rethberg’s 1930 Gypsy Song and the 1928 Tauber recordings of the Act 1 and Act 2 Finales, there’s Leo Blech’s 1929 version of the Schatz-Walzer. This is one of six dances Strauss arranged from the operetta, and it includes the melody of the “Decency Commission Couplets” omitted from the Ackermann recording.