GHCD 2373/74/75 – Mozart – Le Nozze di Figaro (1956), Bastien und Bastienne (1953)

Karl Pilss (harpsichord) Wiener Staatsopernchor, Wiener Symphoniker, Karl Böhm (conductor), Rita Streich (Susanna), Walter Berry (Figaro)

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American Record Guide – May/June 2012

MOZART: Marriage of Figaro; Bastien und Bastienne
This historical issue offers a monaural Salzburg Figaro, vintage 1956, and also a 1953 production of the early singspiel Bastien und Bastienne, a work Mozart composed in 1768 at the ripe old age of 12. Karl Böhm directs Figaro, while John Pritchard is on the podium for the other 50 minutes.
Figaro was a Böhm specialty. I heard it two years later. Over the years, its magic has faded, and it would now be challenged by a sensational full color digital video by Unitel with Fischer-Dieskau, Te Kanawa, Prey, and Freni taking the major roles. The Cherubino of the century is Maria Ewing.
But this is a fine performance with many strengths and minor weaknesses. There is a strong cast, with no obvious weaknesses, and a great conductor and orchestra—a historic document.
This brings us to Bastien und Bastienne, a work I’ve never heard before. It is sung, played and conducted by a team that is if anything overqualified. It is of course sung in German, though it’s clear and understandable to anyone familiar with the lingo. But there is one odd fact about its overture, a brief piece that lasts only 1:38. Before you get far into it you will hear music that is very familiar, and it is not usually credited to Mozart. It is the principal theme of the first movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3—that’s right, the Eroica. Do you suppose that the resemblance is purely coincidental?
Guild’s production presents only the discs and a listing of tracks and timings. Even so, this is easy to like and a cinch to recommend.

International Record Review December 2011

Berry reappears in two Mozart operas from Philips LPs, boxed together by Guild. He is Figaro to Streich’s Susanna in a Böhm-conducted Nozze di Figam from 1956, not issued in Britain until released on Philips’s cheaper label some years later. Reverberation seems to have been added to what had been a clear recording, creating a harsher, heavier, hollow sound. In many places the bass is exaggerated. Sena Jurinac serves Countess Almaviva with lovely tone, but her bretah-control is challenged by Böhm’s protracted tempo for `Porgi amor’, which takes 4’48”, the slowest speed that I have found. Böhm tends to slowness generally. She remains a stylish Countess all through the opera, tonally opulent. The female side is admirable, for Streich sparkles in silvery freshness and Christa Ludwig’s Cherubino benefits from a rounded tone that will grow to make her one of the most euphonious mezzos of the next three decades. Ira Malaniuk, well noticed in ensembles, is denied Marcellina’s aria, as is Erich Majkut (not Makjut) Basilio’s solo. The notes ignore the bridesmaids, who are Lieselotte Maikl and Dorothea Frass. Berry, in rousing voice, is an ebullient Figaro. Paul Schöffler’s voice has lost some richness, but he is an intelligent singer. His questioning of Susanna in `Crudel! perche finora’ shows individuality. Bastien and Bostienne is the second opera. Not having been swathed in reverberation it sounds clearer and more natural: so much better. Berry sings Colas with a light touch. Ilse Hollweg has a lively approach, whilst Waldemar Kmentt is youthfully lyrical. John Pritchard conducts. Much gives pleasure in these issues, but I suggest that the Nozze di Figaro will benefit from reducing the bass. The notes by Jürgen Schaarwächter include information about the artists (Guild GHCD2373/5, three discs, 3 hours 28 minutes).