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Beethoven: Fidelio
Ludwig van Beethoven, Otto Klemperer, Philharmonia Orchestra of London
Beethoven: Fidelio
Genre: Classical
  •  Track Listings (26) - Disc #1
  •  Track Listings (18) - Disc #2

Under Klemperer, a maestro with roots in a great operatic tradition, this is a monumental, authoritative performance. From the very beginning of the Fidelio Overture, tempi are slow, deliberate, expansive: every note is im...  more »


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All Artists: Ludwig van Beethoven, Otto Klemperer, Philharmonia Orchestra of London, Ingeborg Hallstein, Christa Ludwig, Gerhard Unger, Jon Vickers, Kurt Wehofschitz, Raymond Wolansky
Title: Beethoven: Fidelio
Members Wishing: 1
Total Copies: 0
Label: EMI Classics
Original Release Date: 1/1/1962
Re-Release Date: 8/15/2000
Album Type: Original recording remastered
Genre: Classical
Styles: Opera & Classical Vocal, Historical Periods, Classical (c.1770-1830), Modern, 20th, & 21st Century
Number of Discs: 2
SwapaCD Credits: 2
UPCs: 724356736122, 724356736153

Synopsis essential recording
Under Klemperer, a maestro with roots in a great operatic tradition, this is a monumental, authoritative performance. From the very beginning of the Fidelio Overture, tempi are slow, deliberate, expansive: every note is important and vibrantly alive; every vocal and instrumental line stands out; there is time for poised changes and transitions. Chorus and orchestra are splendid; not only do all the soloists sing fabulously, but using all their vocal resources to bring out the character of words and music, they create real people and situations, mood and atmosphere. With a mostly German cast, even the spoken dialogue seems to aid rather than disrupt the drama. Berry is a wonderfully venomous villain, yet he sings every note accurately; Vickers, darkening his voice, makes Florestan more resigned than heroic, breathless in his ecstatic hallucination. Ludwig's voice is flawless over a huge range, warm yet gloriously radiant; she is an ideal Leonore in style, expression, and characterization. --Edith Eisler

CD Reviews

Overwhelming | Cambridge, MA USA | 03/31/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)

""If I can get this cast, we cannot fail to make one of the supreme recordings in the whole history of the industry." This was Walter Legge's comment to his boss when preparing for this 1962 recording of Beethoven's only opera, "Fidelio." He was right: this is, by anyone's standards, one of the supreme recordings of the industry.Otto Klemperer (1885-1973) could have been born to conduct Beethoven in general, and this opera in particular. Beethoven's "Fidelio" is probably the noblest opera ever written, and one of Klemperer's main strengths was nobility, added to a comprehensive structural understanding. His interpretation here is magnificent: never rushed, allowing all the fine strands of Beethoven's glorious music to be heard clearly and easily, and always with that wonderful nobility. He provides sensitive support to the singers while making the Philharmonia Orchestra, maybe the best orchestra in the world at that time, in a way the protagonist of the drama. This must be considered one of the benchmark examples of Beethoven conducting on record, and certainly one of Klemperer's best recordings. We'll look at the cast in likely curtain-call order. Franz Crass is a commanding, noble Don Fernando who has a beautiful, ample voice. I think Hans Hotter, one of the noblest bass-baritones ever, would have been even better here, and with a huge, glorious voice Crass doesn't have. Crass, though, is probably steadier than Hotter would have been, and has a heftier lower register. Next is Gerhard Unger, who sings Jaquino intelligently yet ardently with a firm, boyish tenor, the perfect complement to the Marzelline of Ingeborg Hallstein. Hallstein has a clear, pure voice with a vibrato on the border of obtrusiveness, for all her intelligence. Gundula Janowitz would be preferable, and so would Fritz Wunderlich as Jaquino! And now we begin to move in among the giants of the cast. Walter Berry gives a thrillingly dramatic performance, firmly, resonantly sung. His Pizarro is not a towering figure of evil, but is a thoroughly unpleasant man who manages in his lust for power and reputation to do toweringly evil deeds. Next is Gottlob Frick as Rocco, in the finest voice I have ever heard him. He has the resonant ring that very few basses have, as well as a firm legato, sounding more benevolent than usual, as well, toning down his usual crocodile voice. He presents a very human portrait of this most human of characters, a mixture of and the link between good (Leonore and Florestan) and evil (Pizarro). Now, Jon Vickers as Florestan. He has competition in his role, but he can stand up to the finest of those competitors: as bitterly anguished as Patzak for Furtwängler, as finely sung as James King's performance for Böhm, but combining these qualities with his own unique phrasing and noble eloquence. Phrase after phrase provides a revelation: his anguished cry of "Gott!" is only the most obvious. Listen to him sing "Das Maß der Leiden steht bei dir" with eloquent plangency, "Willig duld' ich alle Schmerzen" with bitterness and suffering, "Und spür' ich nicht linde" with desperate hope ... In the spoken dialogue, he is just as moving, especially when he says, "Geruht? Wie fände ich ruhe?" emphazing the "ich" with such despair that it is no wonder Leonore cries out. The actual voice is at its finest here, with a dark, rich beauty it seldom had. After he is given his roar of applause, he steps off, Christa Ludwig as Leonore steps on, and our imaginary opera house explodes. This is one of the finest performances anyone has ever given, and the fact that she is a mezzo singing one of the most taxing of soprano roles makes her achievement even more astounding. Her voice is ideally suited to the role, despite her being a mezzo: it has a dark, creamy richness, which extends into a gleamingly radiant top. Take the "Abscheulicher" aria, perhaps the most taxing piece for soprano written before Wagner. She is, obviously, fabulously secure in the many low notes, but she sounds absolutely comfortable with the mostly high tessitura that would ruin the voice of any other mezzo. Her finely molded "Komm, Hoffnung" can compare with the best, and her enormous voice can also be agile, as in "Ich folg' dem inner'n Triebe." She negotiates her way flawlessly through the murderous runs and scales, and hits the cruelly exposed high B with an effortless glory that only the very finest sopranos can achieve. But it is in the spoken dialogue that she makes perhaps her longest lasting mark: her inquiry to Rocco about how long the prisoner has been held has a casual surface but an anguished core, as it should, and her many spoken outbursts in the prison scene are so emotional that they send chills down the listener's spine. Her singing here is also at its finest: she effortlessly sings the great line "Töt' erst sein Weib!" but I think the finest moment comes when the trumpet sounds announcing the arrival of the minister and her pianissimo "Ach! Du bist gerettet!" floats with angelic radiance over the three male voices. She sings "O namenlose Freude" joyfully, capping it with a firm high B that every other Leonore whoops. Some lovely soft singing in the final scene is crowned by her glorious "O Gott! O welch' ein Augenblick!" and her part in the final ecstatic ensemble is wonderfully clear, wrapping up one of the supreme performances on record. The sound to this recording is astounding: full, clear, rich, as fine as any digital recording, and for this reissue, Klemperer's 1963 recording of the Leonore Overture No. 3 has been added as an appendix. The listener can now play it before the final scene, enjoy it separately or ignore it altogether. Now beautifully repackaged at mid price in EMI's fabulous "Great Recordings of the Century" series, this is a recording that no one can afford to be without, presenting to us all the many glories of Beethoven's opera. Bravissimo!"
lesismore26 | Chicago, Illinois USA | 08/19/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Another round of applause for EMI for issuing this fabulous "Fidelio" in their "Great Recordings of the Century" series. There is no "Fidelio" that matches this --- anywhere! Otto Klemperer has left us a monumental performance which by the finale becomes close to a religious experience. "Fidelio" is a very difficult opera for the conductor to bring off: it begins like a "singspiel" and gradually builds, scene by scene, until it evolves into a full choral finale which can blow the listener away with its power and majesty. Klemperer beautifully blends each scene into the next with increasing power and balance. The sheer joy that is felt at the end is something easier experienced than described. Christa Ludig, although a mezzo soprano, had more than sufficient power at the top of her voice to sing the very taxing role of Leonore (her rendition of "Abscheulicher" will pin your ears back!), and her considerable dramatic instincts enabled her to create a truly heroic woman whose anguish and pain is immediately obvious. This is arguably Ludwig's greatest recorded performance. The plight of Florestan has never been made as vivid as by Jon Vickers in this recording. Vickers, one of the very few tenors who made a great reputation with this role, simply IS Florestan, and no other exponent of the role comes within miles of him (his "Euch werde Lohn" in the second act would melt the heart of the devil himself). Supporting artists are all wonderful, especially Ingeborg Hallstein as Marcelline, whose clear high voice contrasts well with Ludwig's dark lower tones. There are some outstanding recordings of "Fidelio" available ---- including a radio broadcast (in decent sound) from the 1950 Salzburg Festival starring the legendary Kirsten Flagstad as Leonore under the leadership of Wilhelm Furtwangler. As outstanding as that performance is (is it still available on EMI?), I think that this 1962 Christa Ludwig/Otto Klemperer version actually surpasses it. Truly, a great recording of the century!"
Magnificent Orchestral Contribution
willyjohn | California, USA | 09/21/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Most listeners and reviewers of this Fidelio concentrate on raving about the singers and the conductor. I have something to add. The orchestral contribution of the Philharmonia is magnificent. In the 1950's and 1960's Walter Legge's Philharmonia was the envy of the orchestral world. The orchestra's ensemble playing was superb. Contrary to a lot of people think, the Philharmonia was not a "recording orchestra" but a full-fledged proper orchestra in its own right, just like the Vienna Philharmonic and the Berlin Philharmonic. Interestingly enough, it was because the Philharmonia was trained as a recording orchestra that they were so good. Because microphones are very sensitive, in the course of recording operas and orchestral works for Walter Legge (who was incidentally also a hard task master), the Philharmonia players had to train themselves very hard in the fine art of ensemble playing and beautiful sound production. Consequently, when they played in the concert hall, the playing is absolutely superb by virtue of their training for the microphones!! So there are merits to the existence of the recording studio. of course, the other driving factor is that high priest of perfection, Walter Legge, who always wanted to produce the best in everything that he did. At one point in time, he spent 3 hours with Christa Ludwig just trying to perfect a phrase where she was supposed to sing about the sun. He wanted Christa Ludwig to sing with the "sun" in her voice. Such dedication and hard work is no doubt what makes this Fidelio so great. I advise you to listen not just to the peerless singing in this set but also the magnificent orchestral contribution of the Philharmonia players. Listen to the ensemble playing of the Philharmonia. The string players move clearly as one. Also, listen to the quality of the sound produced by the Philharmonia strings. While the Philharmonia does not have the richness and weight of string sound of the Berlin Philharmonic, the string sound they produce is dripping sweet and overflowing with honey. Richard Osborne reported that when Karajan asked the Philharmonia why their ensemble was so good, they replied, "We sleep together!". I am literally addicted to the orchestral playing of the Philharmonia. If you want to hear more superb orchestral playing, you should acquire Klemperer's Zauberflote (EMI, Great Recordings of the Century Series) and Klemperer's Don Giovanni (also EMI). Klemperer's mozart has been criticized as slow. While I agree that it is slower than other recordings, I say that his approach works in its own way. One of the greatness of Klemperer's Zauberflote and Don Giovanni is the contribution of the Philharmonia, often understated relative to the singers like this Fidelio. In Klemperer's mozart, the Philharmonia becomes a protagonist in their own right rather than just a background support for singers. Not just Klemperer's, but the Philharmonia's recordings with Giulini (Le Nozze di Figaro & Don Giovanni) and Bohm (Cosi Fan Tutte). I haven't heard much people noticing this fact so I thought that I should point it out,"