Search - Herbert von Karajan, Loughton Girls School Chorus, Bancroft School Boys' Choir :: Great Recordings Of The Century - Humperdinck: Hansel Und Gretel / Karajan, Schwarzkopf, Grummer, Metternich, et al

Great Recordings Of The Century - Humperdinck: Hansel Und Gretel / Karajan, Schwarzkopf, Grummer, Metternich, et al
Herbert von Karajan, Loughton Girls School Chorus, Bancroft School Boys' Choir
Great Recordings Of The Century - Humperdinck: Hansel Und Gretel / Karajan, Schwarzkopf, Grummer, Metternich, et al
Genre: Classical
 
  •  Track Listings (18) - Disc #1
  •  Track Listings (13) - Disc #2

Humperdinck's supremely ingratiating opera has an astoundingly starry recorded history. Its singable, easily learned roles have become sort of a drop-in-for-divas occasion (as in the recording by Christa Ludwig and Frederi...  more »

      
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Humperdinck's supremely ingratiating opera has an astoundingly starry recorded history. Its singable, easily learned roles have become sort of a drop-in-for-divas occasion (as in the recording by Christa Ludwig and Frederica von Stade, for example), often with extremely big names singing minor roles. This pre-stereo recording starring Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Elisabeth Grümmer in the titles roles with the youngish Herbert von Karajan would seem to be a forerunner to that, though, in fact, those starry names prove to be window dressing. All the secondary roles are sung by names not familiar to us now, but give us something the starrier casts don't: thoughtful characterizations rather than somewhat-indulgent star turns. Else Schurhoff not only sings the Witch pretty much as written but without mugging--and still manages to be funny. Anny Felbermayer's Sandman is an imaginative piece of vocal characterization that suggests what such an otherworldly creature might actually sound like. Karajan and the Philharmonia Orchestra supply all the orchestral color one could hope for in a mono recording, but without turning it into a showpiece. --David Patrick Stearns

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CD Reviews

High quality and captivating characterizations
Michael K. Halloran | 02/17/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)

"While it may be cliche, the old maxim rings true here: they just don't make them like this anymore. True, this set has its drawbacks, but a performance like this makes any such quibbles easy to forget.Firstly, mention must be made of the exceptional cast assembled here: virtually everyone is excellent. Pride of place must go to Elisabeth Grummer's excellent Hansel. While this is a part normally assumed by mezzos, Grummer's lovely soprano has enough weight in the lower range to present no problems with the low tessitura. The higher-lying passages are, predictably, no problem for her. Her voice remains radiantly beautiful throughout, and her characterization is sweetly boyish without being cloying (a trap many interpreters of these roles fall into).Elisabeth Schwarzkopf is a singer whose recordings continue to fascinate decades after they were made. Casting her as Gretel is an unusual choice (she normally took on slightly weightier roles -- she and Grummer, in fact, sang many of the same parts) and while she has to work to sound childlike, her way with the text is unmatched by any recorded Gretel. Her minx-like teasing of Hansel or her gauzy wonder at the appearance of the gingerbread house are just two notable examples. She also sings her Act 2 opening solo with a hushed innocence: for once, Gretel actually sounds like she's singing a folk tune to herself.The rest of the cast is quite good, if without the obvious excellence of the two leads. Else Schurhoff's Witch is fine; she really sounds like an old crone, but manages to sound frighteningly imposing when casting her spell. Maria von Ilsovay and Josef Metternich are both good, and Anny Felbermayer's soft-grained, childlike tone is right-on for her otherworldly assignments. She is marginally better as the Dew Fairy. What really sets the entire cast apart, however, is their scrupulous attention to the text and the interplay between characters. Everyone seems to be listening to each other, and that concentration and involvement really shines through.The sound, particularly in this remastered version, is excellent: not a digital sonic spectacular, true, but you'll probably forget you're listening to a mono recording.I'm not crazy about Herbert von Karajan's conducting in this piece. The loftier sections are really wonderful, but the lighter moments lack the propulsion and fleetness to really sweep us along (the awakening scene seemed interminable here). For the best recording of Hansel and Gretel, I'd recommend the Kurt Eichorn recording with Helen Donath and Anna Moffo. It also contains the best Sandman, Dew Fairy, and Witch (Christa Ludwig) on records. But if you have room for another classic recording, don't pass this one up."
Great performance of a great opera.
blue-59 | Blount Springs, Alabama, United States | 02/19/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Yes, a great opera. Of course, Hansel and Gretel is an easy target, with its obvious story, highly accessible lyricism, strong appeal to six-year-olds, and composer named after a pop singer. But was there ever a lovelier and more moving little song than the evening prayer? Do the familiar tunes ever sound hackneyed? Is there anyone whose heart doesn't start to crack as the two children begin bravely to fend for themselves in the dark forest?Perhaps the reviewer who called the music mundane was the victim of mundane performances. I've heard pianists make the Appassionata and the F-minor ballade sound mundane.Many years ago, and old lady very close to me, a lady who in the 1920s and early 1930s had sung Puccini, Verdi, and Mozart throughout Europe and North America opposite some of the greatest singers of the day, told me that she believed Hansel and Gretel to be a great opera indeed. In its own way, she maintained, it is quite profound, but we so often hear it sung without emotional commitment.Is it subliminal fear of Hansel and Gretel that leads people to belittle and disparage it? Why does just a mention of the title sometimes evoke laughter? Is there a little nervousness in that laughter? How many of us divorced parents have figuratively abandoned our trusting children to the wilderness? How many other listeners find themselves identifying uncomfortably closely with the two waifs? I couldn't listen to this opera for eight years after my divorce. Traviata? Boheme? No problem. I could handle tragedy for Violetta or Mimi, but seeing the effect of divorce on my 10-year-old boy and 9-year-old girl made Hansel and Gretel too much to bear. And is the witch with the cannibalistic designs any worse than what's really out there, just released by some judge or parole board, awaiting the innocent?I put the Karajan on recently-my first try in eight years-and the hair on the back of my neck unexpectedly stood up with the first few notes. This performance cast a magic spell from first note to last, and neither the 1953 sound nor the mono recording was the least distraction. The singers are fine, their voices beautiful, and the sound is actually quite passable, but the greatness of this performance derives from the players' total commitment: they sing Hansel and Gretel as if it were Tosca or Trovatore. Perhaps Karajan's direction was a factor. This performance isn't some matinee for the kiddies. It's serious, and deadly so.One reviewer mentioned slow tempos in places. Yes, but they're right for this performance. Listen to the Eichhorn for a superbly sung, high-fidelity, spirited performance that's lots of fun. It really is wonderful. The Karajan? Beware."
A Matchless Recording
song junkie | Smyrna,, Georgia USA | 01/09/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)

"This is recording which should be required listening for all opera lovers. EMI have made a definitive recording available at such a reasonable price it would be a shame not to acquire this lovely music for your own enjoyment. I predict that you will be overjoyed with your purchaseTwo of the greatest singers of the century, Schwarzkopf and Grummer, bring this opera to life like no others I have heard in recent memory. They, along with the other singers in the cast, have raised this rather mundane music to new heights.This was one of my Christmas gifts and I feel as if I have been handed a great award on a silver platter. Do yourself a favour and buy this one for your collection; you won't regret the purchase."