Slightly Tarnished But Very Enjoyable
J. M. Parr | Ottawa,Canada | 11/12/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"The 1964 recording of Hansel und Gretel by the Vienna Philharmonic under Andre Cluytens is not the first choice anyone would make wanting this opera but having said that, there is much to enjoy in these cds. EMI didn't often record in Vienna in those days probably because Decca had the great Sofiensaal locked up in contract. For this recording they chose the acoustically less perfect Musikverien. It shows in the sound which is somehow more immediate but without the lively quality that Decca's recordings achieved in the other venue. For a comparison check out Solti's recording made in Vienna 14 years later. The Sofiensaal was an incomparable location for recording. What a pity it is no longer around.
Irmgard Seefried was always at her best when singing the boy roles. Her gorgeous voice was tailor made for "pants" music. What a pity she didn't record this opera 5 or 6 years earlier. By 1964 her voice was starting to show a bit wear although she is never unsteady. Anneliese Rothenberger brings her gorgeous, pristine soprano with a rather too sophisticated way of phrasing making an oddly knowing Gretel. Both sopranos are at their respective best in the many duets sprinkled throughout the opera. Walter Berry is a truly wonderful Peter. He is equally wonderful in the Solti recording 14 years later where the conductor allows him more room for phrasing and character than Cluytens does here. Grace Hoffman is an adequate Gertrude without being a standout. Liselotte Maikl does likewise for both the Sandman and the Dewfairy. Last but not least the great Elisabeth Hongen in one of her very last roles as the Witch. Her characterization is not nearly nasty enough. She comes across as more of a comfy old lady than a scary witch. For all of that she sings wonderfully for a great mezzo at the very end of a long and distinguished career. She barely displays any unsteadiness and even displays a couple of very secure if shortened top notes.
What really lets this recording down is the bizarre conducting of Andre Cluytens. He seems to alternate moments of slackness with moments of overheatedness where the music simply rebels against such treatment. On a few aoccasions I note that Miss Seefried seems to have difficulty with her rythm, most likely due to Cluytns odd reading of one of the most gorgeous scores in all of opera."