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Strauss: Capriccio
Richard Strauss, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf
Strauss: Capriccio
Genre: Classical
  •  Track Listings (22) - Disc #1
  •  Track Listings (26) - Disc #2

Strauss's last opera is one of the wonders of lyric art: an intelligent conversation piece about aesthetic principles (which is more important, words or music?) wrapped in achingly beautiful music. Its humor and drama a...  more »


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All Artists: Richard Strauss, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Nicolai Gedda, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Hans Hotter, Christa Ludwig, Rudolf Christ, Anna Moffo, Dermot Troy
Title: Strauss: Capriccio
Members Wishing: 0
Total Copies: 0
Label: EMI Classics
Original Release Date: 1/1/1957
Re-Release Date: 8/15/2000
Album Type: Original recording remastered
Genre: Classical
Styles: Opera & Classical Vocal, Historical Periods, Modern, 20th, & 21st Century
Number of Discs: 2
SwapaCD Credits: 2
UPC: 724356739123

Strauss's last opera is one of the wonders of lyric art: an intelligent conversation piece about aesthetic principles (which is more important, words or music?) wrapped in achingly beautiful music. Its humor and drama are subtler than we're used to, but the opera is no less pleasurable for it. Capriccio's reputation as a connoisseur's piece is well served by this 1957 recording that features a superb cast led by the distinguished Straussian Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. True, she could be mannered, but the role of the Countess who must decide between the poet and the musician fits her like a glove, and she's radiant in the final, soaring monologue. Everyone else in the cast is outstanding, and the monophonic sound is so clear that you almost won't miss stereo. Sawallisch has the Philharmonia playing with the utmost transparency. Karl Böhm's DG stereophonic version with Gundula Janowitz is almost as fine (although currently out of print), but this one, like vintage wine, just gets better and better. --Dan Davis

CD Reviews

A perfect polemic on art
Mike Birman | Brooklyn, New York USA | 09/25/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"There have been a handful of perfect Opera recordings over the years. Perfection, of course, is a subjective judgement that can, if ill-used, incite violence. Particularly among Opera fans. Naturally, an Opera review that doesn't initiate gunplay is a good thing.

I mention it because I offer this 1957 recording of Capriccio as an example, extremely rare in the history of recorded Opera, of a perfect recording - a Reference recording, one of perhaps two dozen. Its status as a Reference recording is not controversial among serious record collectors. It assumed that mantle almost immediately after its release in 1959. But perfect? Nothing in Life is perfect!

True. But Art is NOT Life. Thankfully, what we find so disappointing, even tragic, in Life can be transmuted into perfection when Art achieves its most exalted fruition in the hands of those with a burning desire for self-expression and the unique means to do so. A tad pretentious? Maybe. But it so happens that Art is what this 1941 Opera - the last Strauss would write - is about. Art as Alchemy. The transformation of what is base and mundane into something meaningful and gloriously eternal. Something perfect! And almost as if on cue, Wolfgang Sawallisch and his stunning, impossible to ever replicate cast along with perhaps the greatest house band of the era, recorded an Opera about Artistic perfection... perfectly!

Nominally, this polemic written by Clemens Krauss offers a debate between Words and Music; each claiming supremacy in the Operatic Art. The Opera begins with a lovely string sextet played by the Orchestra: the beauty of the unaccompanied music making a strong case for its primacy. The Opera ends with the words of a sonnet, and a questioning gaze into a mirror by a Countess one cannot help but compare to two others inhabiting Der Rosenkavalier and Le Nozze di Figaro. Everywhere there is the struggle between the temporal and the eternal. It is this final scene with its suggestion of verbal temporality that ignited my suspicion that Strauss comes down on the side of Music as the eternal face of Operatic Art, the winner in the debate. You may not agree. This rich suggestiveness is just one of the reasons why Capriccio, alone among Struass' late Operas, is winning wide-spread acceptance into the repertory.

Sawallisch, merely 34 at the time of recording, exhibits exquisite taste in his textural delicacy. Tempos are broad yet firm. His time-beating clear, uncomplicated and comparable to the great Knappertsbusch. Instrumental and Vocal balances are exceptionally clear. His Orchestra, the Philharmonia, was possibly the best recording band of the 1950's and early 1960's. Incidentally, the superb Horn solos are NOT played by Dennis Brain, cruelly killed in an auto accident the day before recording commenced, but Alan Civil (Horn Soloist on the Beatles' "For No One" found on their 1966 album Revolver).

Elizabeth Schwarzkopf is superb as the Countess Madeleine, emotionally reserved without hauteur. Her voice had a clarion richness at the time. Lyrical, round yet soft, without the hint of shrillness one detects in later recordings. Eberhard Wachter is a terrific Count, a rough, unmusical womanizer. Nicolai Gedda is the Composer Flamand. A youngish Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau is Olivier the Poet, Flamand's verbal nemesis. Hans Hotter is suitably officious as La Roche, the Theatre Director, a parody of the famous Director Max Reinhardt with whom Clemens Krauss had worked in Vienna and Salzburg. Christa Ludwig is wonderful, as always, as Clairon, an Actress. Anna Moffo has a cameo as "an Italian Singer". This is a cast of which dreams are made! It cannot, will not ever be duplicated! The recording itself is subtext to the Opera. Perfection comes only rarely, if at all.

The 1957-58 recording, produced by the great Walter Legge, is in a warm, full and rich Mono. Yet Stereo recordings were available since 1953. Many (including me) have bemoaned the lack of a Stereo version of this once-in-a-lifetime production. Why was this recording not released in the newer and (allegedly) superior Stereophonic format? In previous reviews I have alluded to Legge's dislike for Stereo. Much (if not all - rumors abound) of this Opera was indeed recorded in Stereo. When "balance" issues (read that EGO) arose between several of the male leads, a Draconian "compromise" was reached, much to Legge's not-so-secret pleasure, in which it was decided to proceed in Mono and the existing Stereo tapes were destroyed. That must have been some squabble!

So this magnificent version of Capriccio is only available in a Mono format. Lately, however, I have stopped my whining about this and come to feel that Mono heightens the Chamber Music feel of the Opera. That it narrows the soundfield whilst simultaneously increasing its intimacy. In other words, it improves the overall experience. The sound is so good, the recording so well produced that the issue is moot. This is a recording you MUST have in your collection. It is one of those benchmark recordings by which all others are judged. You will hear what Humans can do when at their very best. You will sample perfection and the vision of the eternal that is the gift of all true Art."
lesismore26 | Chicago, Illinois USA | 08/19/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Strauss referred to his "Capriccio" as a "musical conversation piece", which may signal a red flag for many listeners. The "conversation" involves a debate: which is more important in musical art ---- words or music? And so the debate takes up a lot of time in the piece, which may prove very heavy going for many listeners who do not understand German. There are, however, many beautiful and interesting orchestral and vocal touches generated in this piece ---- none of which are sustained for any length of time. The final twenty minutes, however, does contain a beautiful and soaring scene for the soprano, which many may find worth the entire piece. For those still interested, it is definitely recommended that one follows the libretto to experience the full meaning of the piece. With that said, it must also be said that the cast of this recording is the greatest that could have ever been assembled for ANY opera ---- Strauss or otherwise. Schwarzkopf sings the last twenty five minute scene for all she's worth, which was a lot. Also on hand to lend their considerable and formidable talents are Nicolai Gedda, Christa Ludwig, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Anna Moffo, Hans Hotter, and Eberhard Wachter, all of whom portray characters involved in the great debate about words versus music. This unique and interesting Strauss piece is not for everyone, but for those who are attuned to the Strauss idiom, this recording will provide an entertaining and highly individual experience. The remastered mono sound (there is no reason why this 1957 performance could not have been recorded in stereo) is clear and fine."
Superior Strauss
Clinton D. Davis | Norman, OK United States | 11/06/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)

"When I first considered buying Capriccio to further my collection of Strauss, I was scared to buy this recording because it was done in mono and not in stereo. My fears were totally unjustified; the recording is great, and the sound is definitely vintage, but charming, sort of like an old movie. Everything is clear and mastered beautifully. The performance of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf is outstanding in every way, and the justly celebrated last scene is electrifying. The supporting cast is fine as well, and Sawallisch's conducting brought out things that I totally missed (and would now miss) in other accounts of this work. If you love Strauss, you can't afford not to spend the $25 dollars to get this recording. There's no reason not to: this is really one of the great recordings of the century--something that critics and musicians have agreed upon for years; it's now at mid-price instead of full-price (with full libretto, translations, and critical essays); and the mono sound is not an issue at all, but rather enhances the experience. Get it!"