Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
|Berlioz, Vroons, Schwarzkopf|
Damnation De Faust
Furtwängler's take on Berlioz's Faust
Mike Leone | Houston, TX, United States | 10/31/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Since Berlioz's Damnation of Faust was the very first of the musical treatments of the Faust legend that I got to know, and indeed the first large-scale classical vocal piece I became acquainted with, it has long been special to me. My favorite performances remain the ones conducted by Charles Munch for RCA Victor and Igor Markevitch for DG. Still, this 1950 live performance, conducted by the legendary Wilhelm Furtwängler, has plenty to offer. I might even go so far as to say that it comes behind only the other two I have mentioned in terms of my preferred performances.
As the other reviewer has pointed out, this Damnation is in German. This alone disqualifies it from consideration as one's only recording of the work. Still, I found the language somewhat less distracting than I did in a 1964 Italian-language recording conducted by Peter Maag and featuring Giulietta Simionato as Marguerite and Ettore Bastianini as Mephistophélès. The sound of course is not up to present-day standards, although it is more than adequate and will pose no problem to those who are used to listening to recordings of live performances. Sadly, the first phrase of the magical Menuet des Follets in Part III is missing.
So much for the reasons I gave the recording only four stars instead of five. Now for the pluses:
I did not know that Elisabeth Schwarzkopf had the role of Marguerite in her repertoire. She sings beautifully throughout; the fact that the performance is in German was probably a boon to her, as she sounds less mannered than she sometimes does. She strikes the proper balance between passion and reserve in "D'amour l'ardente flamme" in Part IV and is genuinely moving at the end of that piece, seconded by Furtwängler's reading of the postlude.
Tenor Franz Vroons as Berlioz's ultimately hapless hero is easily the least known of the three principals. He may be most famous for participating in a mid-50s BBC broadcast of Euryanthe with the young Joan Sutherland. However, from his first phrases in the opening scene, his rightness for the difficult role of Faust is never in question. Indeed, Vroons is largely responsible for setting me in a frame of mind to forget that I was listening to a performance auf Deutsch. He has a voice that leans more toward the lyric than the spinto and easily rides the occasional high notes, such as the one in the duet with Marguerite toward the end of Part III. Nevertheless, he is still capable of encompassing the dramatic solo in Part IV and the ride to the abyss. Certainly a real discovery and one well worth hearing.
Those who are used to more French-sounding devils, such as Martial Singher for Munch and Michel Roux for Markevitch, are going to be somewhat stunned by Hans Hotter's Mephisto, even setting language aside; being quite heavy-voiced for the role, he is in some ways reminiscent of Boris Christoff who twice recorded Gounod's devil. The liner notes describing him as a "Wotan emerged from the abyss" are pretty close to the mark. Alois Pernerstorfer, who would perform Alberich for Furtwängler, is likewise a heavier than normal Brander, although the extra vocal weight works quite well in this brief part.
Furtwängler of course has a reputation for being rather slow and he does little to dispel that reputation here, at least not in the first two parts, where, for example, the Rakoczy March at the end of Part I and the double chorus that closes Part II verge on being ponderous. However, his tempi become generally more aligned with the traditional in the latter two parts of the work. For fun, compare his slow reading of the faster section of "D'amour l'ardente flamme" with Günther Neuhold's extremely quick version with Jennifer Larmore on the Bayer label. The ride to the abyss is certainly slower than the norm, but this adds to the tension of it all and makes the following scene in hell, with the demons really leaning on their questions to Mephisto, seem almost inevitable. The demons' dance at the slower tempo is truly terrifying.
For those who don't insist that their Berlioz be in French, this recording under the great Furtwängler has plenty to offer. I am very happy to have discovered it, some 45 years after I first became acquainted with the work. Certainly a more than valid supplemental recording in anyone's collection."