Design Review: Volume 4, Issue 2 (September-May 1951-52)
Long-playing discs are our theme once more. It is true that the only ones available here—and in small quantities—are from one company, and that we have little chance of obtaining the fabulous range being put out by at least forty concerns in the United States. But let us consider what there is. Take opera. There is no doubt that the advent of L.P. has worked wonders here. I have before me an American catalogue listing eighty-eight complete opera recordings, including such fantastic items as Verdi's La Battaglia di Legnano and Hugo Wolf's Der Corregidor. And our English friends are forging ahead steadily. I imagine that most local collectors at all interested in this form of music will want either Mozart's Seraglio (LXT 2536/8) or Johann Strauss's Fledermaus (LXT 2550/1), or both—most probably both.
Die Entfiehrung aus dem Serail, as we shall call it, for it is sung in the German tongue that Mozart used for it—offers two hours or more of purest delight. The cast are all good, and a great deal of the spoken dialogue has been retained, which might be thought a nuisance by some British listeners. But this prevents the piece from being merely a series of ‘numbers’. And with what relish these Viennese actor-singers throw themselves into the text! See if you can detect anything self-conscious or forced in the scene where Pedrillo makes old Osmin drunk, or in a dozen other places. Armed with Ernest Newman's Opera Nights, the nonlinguist can get endless pleasure from the amusing goings-on. But we want also to be satisfied musically, and there is almost a hundred per cent, guarantee here also. Endre Koreh is an ideal Osmin, save when he moves above his lower register, and there is some disappointment in listening to his ‘Triumph’ aria in Act 3, but we should remember that the original Osmin had a quite exceptional range, and that we cannot expect miracles too often. Tenors Walther Ludwig and Peter Klein, sopranos Emmy Loose and Wilma Lipp, offer singing that is highly satisfying from first note to last. The Vienna Philharmonic, under Josef Kripps, chuckles and bubbles, sighs and sings. The balance has been condemned in some quarters — voices too loud, not enough orchestra. In warmly commending this set I am writing for the average lover of Mozart, who will surely not be put off by such strictures. And this is the only version so far of one of Mozart's most human and approachable operas, a work of which our greatest living critic has said that there is not a single dull number from beginning to end.
But Mozartian opera is, admittedly, not everyone's cup of tea. Die Fledermaus surely is. I cannot imagine anyone not revelling in these two closely-packed discs of vintage Johann Strauss, this riot of waltzes, polkas, Viennese fun and Viennese sentiment. All the non-accompanied dialogue has been omitted here, so maybe the recording is a series of ‘numbers’. It doesn't matter. I throw consistency to the winds in the face of such richness. The average New Zealander's acquaintance with Fledermaus has been confined to endless hearings of the overture and perhaps the overdone ‘Laughing Song’. I have known several people to approach this recording in a bored frame of mind, only to give vent to tremendous enthusiasm after the first side. For once, no one has any complaints about either singing, playing or recording—the only mild remonstrance being that no dividing lines are left between the acts, which follow one another without any breathing space. We are given a performance of the waltz Voices of Spring as ballet music, but this is so placed that it can easily be eliminated. The distinguished cast sing with wonderful verve and refinement. Every number is a gem, and all the orchestration can be heard. For those who perhaps still do not know, the main principals are Hilde Gueden, Wilma Lipp, Julius Patzak and Anton Dermota, and the Vienna State Opera Chorus and Philharmonic Orchestra are under the inspired leadership of one of the great opera conductors of our time—Clemens Krauss. The same forces and some of the same soloists have since recorded The Gipsy Baron (LXT 2612/3). When the records arrive here it is fully expected they wall be just as desirable as the Fledermaus.
Other Decca operas which we may expect very soon are two of Puccini's, La Boheme (LXT 2622/3) and Madame Butterfly (LXT 2638/40), each featuring the sensational Italian soprano, Renata Tebaldi, Der Freischutz (LXT 2597/9), by a Vienna opera cast, and two French works recorded at the Opera Comique—Carmen (LXT 2615/7) and Manon (LXT 2618/20). Die Meistersinger, of which the second act was released some time ago, has now been completed and freshly coupled on LXT 2659/64, while the 1951 Beyruth Parsifal is on LXT 2651/7. This last must be the longest single work yet recorded in any form.