GHCD 2293/94/95 – DER ROSENKAVALIER – Strauss – Krauss – Salzburg 1936 – Reining – della Casa – Gueden – Boeheme – Poell
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Clemens Kraus – conductor, Maria Reining, Lisa Della Casa, Hilde Gueden, Kurt Boehme
International Record Review – December 2004
Three recent historic recordings of Richard Strauss’s and Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s ‘comedy for music’ arrived almost together, led by three of the greatest Strauss conductors of the twentieth century whose work in the opera house (major to each of their careers) is otherwise seriously under-represented on disc.
As one might predict, George’s Szell performance – the oldest but the best sounding of these transfers – is supremely well disciplined and organized, every tricky rhythm and time signature beautifully rehearsed and in place, ensemble needle-point precise. It excels in the score’s many loud and busy moments – the panic when the Marschallin thinks her husband has returned, the various Elektra-like outbursts of the Lerchenau servants, or the prelude to Act 3 (frequently, but not at all here, reduced to a kind of noisy Gebrauchsmusik accompanying Octavian’s and Valzacchi’s preparation of booby traps for Ochs). Like Reiner – but absolutely unlike Krauss – Szell relishes any modernity in the scoring, the discords, the ‘wrong’ harmonies, occasionally and most excitingly making the piece sound like Wozzeck a decade or so early. It is also true (and predictable) that Szell can be a little strait-laced, especially in Act 1 where his precision about bar lines sometimes inhibits the (still) girlishly sensual side of Maria Reining’s Marschallin. In the great Act 3 Trio too, she can be sensed resisting Szell’s pacing a little. But in Act 2 the maestro seems to take fire from the Octavian/Sophie romance: the silver rose arrives to a passionately built climax and the conducting throughout is on the visceral level of Szell’s hair-raising Cleveland Don Juan or his song accompaniments to Schwarzkopf. In Jarmila Novotna Szell has one of the great Octavians on record, a soprano with a good lower voice (for Act 2) able to point every dramatic detail.
This Salzburg performance was occasionally pirated before (this Andante set leaving those issues dead in the water for sound and excellent annotation), but Reiner’s Met performance, tellingly transferred by Ward Marston from a rather intractable-sounding TV soundtrack, is new on disc. If you know his fabled Salome collaboration with Ljuba Welitsch, you will immediately recognize Reiner’s genius with Strauss’s textures: swift, light (but not in the ‘classical’ manner of Krauss or Böhm), unfailingly teasing out the motor of each moment in the score and letting his instruments’ colour speak in a manner that was surely inherited from his years close to the composer himself in Dresden. Reiner is a great accompanist and his work with Eleanor Steber’s aristocratic yet vulnerable Marschallin is a treat in itself, as is his close control over Emanuel List, his witty but rhythmically and verbally vulnerable Ochs. As we expect from the Met in those days there are cuts aplenty (nine in Act 3 alone, although all from Ochs’s tavern embarrassments), but Reiner’s line through the drama is at least as fine as any other conductor’s on disc.
As a footnote to its release Guild appends Clemens Krauss’s 1936 Berlin recording of the big soprano music in Act 3, dubbing in the gaps from a 1944 Krauss-Ied Bavarian broadcast. With his wife Viorica Ursuleac on her best recorded form, and no less than Tiana Lernnitz and a (younger) Erna Berger as the young lovers, this is an unmissable 12 minutes of Strauss history on disc. The main event, new to disc, features supreme performances from Reining (in better voice than on the famous 1954 Erich Kleiber studio set) and della Casa, a young soprano Octavian alarmingly apt in both boudoir romance and low ‘Mariandel’ comedy. The German Ochs himself (Böhme) is inclined to overplay his crude side, and is more brutal (and far less entertaining) than the Viennese-born veterans on the other sets – but he is certainly accurate and recovers dignity well when the game is up at the inn. Krauss himself – and here is the rub – sounds only intermittently on fire – he was coming to the end of a summer’s work which had included his Bayreuth début in both the Ring and Parsifal. The beginning and end of Act 1 are terrific (gorgeous string-playing) and the Trio might just be the most thrillingly paced on record (and it is fast!), but much of Ac t 2 (not helped by the recorded sound, admittedly) sounds routine and loud. The wartime set is a better way to hear this maestro’s work on this score, although its cast is not the equal of this one. Also, the sound on Guild’s issue (from a private recording of the Austrian Radio broadcast) cannot always cope with loud, especially soprano-dominated climaxes, although some good work has evidently been done on the Ochs sections. But, at Guild’s price, few should resist these singers and that Berlin bonus.
Andante’s bonus (on a fourth disc) renews acquaintance with the abridged Heger set, another collector’s essential that might have been even more magnetic had it been led (as was planned) by Bruno Walter. As for the singers, these are not literally creators’ performances but they feel like them. The Andante set is not cheap but the combination of its main performance, a good transfer by Gottfried Krauss and the luxury presentation, full libretto and notes make it pretty essential. (There are some interesting disagreements in Guild’s and Andante’s notes as to where certain cast members died.) And the Reiner set has his conducting, another heavenly women’s trio (Steber is exceptional) and evidently well-rehearsed and committed work from the New York house ensemble, not least Hugh Thomposn’s accurate and unguyed Faninal.
Mike V. Ashman
You will need a studio recording or two but for sheer theatrical frisson this Salzburg performance should not be overlooked …
Here’s something special for admirers of Clemens Krauss – the first ever release of this 1953 Salzburg Rosenkavalier. Preiser has released a Krauss 1942 Bavarian broadcast with his wife, Viorica Ursuleac (who appears in Guild’s 1936 78 excerpts which are splendid, though there are splices from other performances to ensure continuity) and Georgine von Milinkovic et al. There are also some Vienna State Opera live extracts dating from the same period.
Firstly a word about recording sonics and quality. The copy was made by a private collector and Guild notes that there was shifting equalization, some breaks and that it enshrined a metallic quality with the voice of the Ochs, Kurt Boehme. It also notes, correctly, that the broadcast has an airless quality. I would add this; the microphones seem to have been placed more over the pit than the stage so that the flaring horns, for example, in the orchestral introduction to Act I leap out dramatically. The sound is certainly recessive and cramped; percussion is muffled, internal sectional balance is occasionally problematic. There are some blips as well – they sound like fractionally missing moments where sides were changed. I should also add – this sounds like a litany of problems, which isn’t really the case but they should be noted – that the sound splinters and fractures somewhat in the Second Act (especially Mord! Mord! – which is uncomfortable). One can also hear some radio interference in this section of the Act, which is temporarily off-putting. At 1.17 into Er muss mich pardioneren (Act II, track 12) there is the kind of “edit” I referred to earlier and this happens a few times.
All right, this doesn’t sound good. But there is good news; apart from the constriction of sound the problems are essentially survivable. Those with a serious interest in historic performance and in the musicianship of Strauss’s favourite Rosenkavalier conductor will want to hear it and this notwithstanding the fact that a number of the principals have also left behind recordings of their roles in other sets. Reining famously recorded it for Kleiber in 1955 (Decca) but also for Szell, live in 1949 – now on Andante. Gueden, for instance, was also in that Kleiber cast.
The greatest and most animating feature of this remains Clemens Krauss. He encourages a sense of seamless animation, with scenes developing a momentum that glides naturally into subsequent ones. There’s no sense of the static or tableau about his leadership. Rhythms are sharply etched and wittily pointed. Wind principals are given their head and plaudits in particular go to the bassoonist and clarinettist. In the Act II introduction we hear some succulent echt-Viennese string portamenti and a veritable surge of adrenalin. I’ve seldom heard bettered the masterly way he handles the end of In dieser feierlichen Stunde – where he judges the theatrical temperature with the most acute perception. Listen as well to the sheer naturalness of his sprung rhythm in the Octavian-Sophie exchange Mit ihren Augen voller Tränen. Even here though, things aren’t perfect, nor would one expect them to be. The Act III trio is a mite untidy, though it is fleetly taken and beautifully articulate, and there is throughout, though more so in the last two Acts, a slight drop in adrenalin. This is relative though; Krauss is still a formidable guide, not as rhythmically incisive as Szell but with a greater sense of rubato and stage design – and I think, in the end, definably more of a sense of the humanity of the score.
I agree with annotator London Green that Reining is heard at something like her Straussian best in the 1949 Szell broadcast but that Krauss’s conducting has a flexibility that elevates her assumption still further. Hers is a less weighty voice than usual and hers remains throughout a Marschallin who seeks the light, not the depths, of the role. Her voice and impersonation are entirely consonant in this. Lisa della Casa is likewise a soprano and this lightening of the voices in their scenes together gives them a sense of vocal equality. She is technically eloquent and tonally fresh and conveys in large measure the verve and increasing maturity of Octavian. Sophie is Hilde Gueden, flighty, quick, and Ochs is Boehme at his buffo best but with a slight taste of vinegar in the voice. He does overdo the ruffian elements rather too much but it’s a credible portrait.
In conclusion this is a powerful souvenir of Krauss’s credentials as a Straussian. Compromised though it is by sonic limitations it will stand as an ancillary purchase. You will need a studio recording or two but for sheer theatrical frisson this Salzburg performance should not be overlooked, even though the wartime broadcast has distinctive merits of its own.