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More Details for IPCD 1013-2 Sena Jurinac
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Reviews for IPCD 1013-2

SENA JURINAC: Unknown Lieder Recordings 1944–1951

Sena Jurinac (s); Karl Schmitt-Walter (bar); Peter Anders, Anton Dermota (ten); Various.

R. STRAUSS Four Last Songs. Excerpts from MILLÖCKER Gasparone. J. STRAUSS II Die Fledermaus. MOZART Le Nozze di Figaro. BIZET Carmen. PUCCINI La Bohème; Madama Butterfly. SMETNA Bartered Bride. VERDI Otello. MASSENET Manon.



This lovely set is a marvelous documentation of one of the great but under-recorded sopranos of the middle 20th century, Sena Jurinac. There are songs by Grieg, Respighi, Wagner (two of the Wesendonck Lieder), Schubert, Mendelssohn, Marx, Strauss, and Reger. In addition, a Fritz Busch-conducted performance of Strauss’s Four Last Songs, scenes from Manon with Anton Dermota, operetta excerpts from Die Fledermaus and Millocker’s Gasparone, and operatic arias and duets from The Marriage of Figaro, Carmen, La Bohème, The Bartered Bride, and Otello (the duets are with the great tenor Peter Anders, and from a radio broadcast of 1952 conducted by Otto Ackermann).

Most of these performances are from broadcasts, and in general the sound quality is good for the era, except for a few of the Lieder excerpts that have a bit of flutter, and a touch of distortion in the Four Last Songs. Immortal Performances’ usual very high standard of transfer work applies throughout; most listeners who have a reasonable tolerance for material of this nature will find nothing to scare them away here.

The values found throughout these discs are primarily vocal and musical. Jurinac was a singer for whom the music always came first. She was not one to distort her voice to make a dramatic effect, and listening to her over the two and a half hours here one finds few moments of remarkable individuality in terms of inflection, phrasing, or coloration. But those are precisely the things one might say about Jussi Björling as well, and if Jurinac’s voice is not as immediately identifiable by its timbre as Björling’s, it is still a voice of true and memorable beauty.

Jurinac was born in 1921, and by the end of the 1950s her voice already began to show some wear. But everything here is from her best years, and the singing is a model of style, even vocal production, and beauty of tone. Where one might have some legitimate questions is in the Italian operatic repertoire. Her Mimì and her Butterfly are beautifully sung, with a soaring ease that one rarely hears in this music, but they don’t really sound like Puccini. The ebb and flow of the Puccini line (or for that matter the Verdi line in the Otello duet) elude her, though there remains the satisfaction that comes from the voice and the innate musicality (and from Anders’ lovely singing, too). The French repertoire, where she portrays Micaëla in the duet with Anders, and Manon, seem more congenial to her nature.

As is the norm for this company, the accompanying booklet is a treasure. Tully Potter’s excellent essay on the singer is informative and thorough, even if he responds to her Puccini more positively than I do. There are no texts provided. Highly recommended.

Henry Fogel
FANFARE magazine,
July / August 2011

SENA JURINAC: Unknown Lieder Recordings 1944–1951

R. STRAUSS Four Last Songs. Excerpts from MILLÖCKER Gasparone. J. STRAUSS II Die Fledermaus. MOZART Le Nozze di Figaro. BIZET Carmen. PUCCINI La Bohème; Madama Butterfly. SMETNA Bartered Bride. VERDI Otello. MASSENET Manon.


Some of us in the rather small, insular world of opera collecting have come to know the Canadian nonprofit educational organization Immortal Performances Recorded Music Society for its stewardship of early Metropolitan Opera broadcasts, first on the Naxos Historical series and then on the Guild label. It is an organization dedicated to the worthy goal of seeking out and preserving early opera and vocal recordings, which it has been doing in exemplary fashion for many years. Now the group has begun issuing CDs on its own label, this current set an example. It is the first of what is promised to be a series of retrospectives of great singers of the past.

Sena Jurinac is certainly a good individual with whom to start. The Bosnian-born soprano had the misfortune of beginning her singing career in the middle of World War II, but she persevered, and in the postwar era emerged as one of the bevy of very talented young singers attached to the Vienna State Opera. She went on from there to become one of the finest singers in the mid 20th century. Known early as a fine Mozart and Richard Strauss interpreter, Jurinac had a low soprano range that allowed her to take on and craft into her own charming renditions traditional mezzo-soprano roles such as Cherubino (Le Nozze di Figaro), Dorabella (Così fan tutte), and Octavian (Der Rosenkavalier). Later in her career she would move to the higher roles of the Countess, Fiordiligi, and the Marschallin in each of the same operas. A rather lightweight lyric at first, Jurinac’s voice was to take on darker and richer hues as she matured, allowing her to sing heavier, more dramatically interesting roles. A much lesser-known facet of her career, at least in the U.S., was her work as a recitalist. A native German speaker, Jurinac became a proficient Lied singer and rivaled other artists of her generation, such as Lisa Della Casa and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, in this now rather neglected art form.

Jurinac is certainly not underrepresented on disc. She has sung on several studio opera recordings by major labels, most still available today, preserving many of her finest roles for posterity, and the private recordings of her performances are legion. Much rarer are examples of her Lieder singing, or at least they are much harder to find today. I was able to locate only a collection of Schumann and Respighi songs once issued by Deutsche Grammophon and now only available as a facsimile reissue on ArkivMusic.

The first disc of the current two-disc set consists of previously unknown and unavailable recordings of Lieder from three sessions: Zagreb in 1944, and London in 1950 and 1951. The Zagreb recital provides songs with piano by Edvard Grieg, the well-known Ich liebe dich and Respighi’s popular Nebbie (the only piece on either disc not sung in German), along with two of Richard Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder. The sessions from London give us some familiar songs by Schubert, Mendelssohn, and R. Strauss along with lesser-known works by Strauss contemporaries Joseph Marx and Max Reger. The disc concludes with Strauss’s then newly composed Four Last Songs performed with the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Fritz Busch in 1951. Disc 2 consists of opera and operetta arias and duets in several sessions with regional German orchestras, pairing Jurinac variously with Karl Schmitt-Walter, Peter Anders, and Anton Dermota, along with short excerpts with an entire Fledermaus cast. Some of these pieces have been available previously but are now out of print.

All of this material is early Jurinac; the voice is beautifully light and silvery with solid intonation, delivered with her customary poise and assurance. The sound of the voices is remarkably clear and present for the age of the recordings, the pianos a bit tinkly and the orchestras sounding better in string passages than with winds and brass, which can often sound muffled and muddy. Jurinac’s voice sounds hardly different in 1944 Zagreb than in 1952 Germany, although she sings heavier material from Butterfly and Otello in the later sessions (still long before she would actually perform the roles on stage). A couple of niggling reservations with the documentation: First, the titles of some arias and duets are not given, as well as the individual titles of Strauss’s Four Last Songs. This is not a serious drawback since most of the pieces are well known. Still, why not provide them? Second, no texts are provided. This is a real problem for some of the more obscure Lieder, although texts for most of the Schubert and Strauss can easily be obtained. Texts for disc 1 are promised to be provided online, never an ideal solution for the listener. That said, this is a well-produced set in surprisingly good sound with performances to treasure by a fondly remembered singer, an excellent way to start a series of “Famous Voices of the Past.”

Bill White
July/August 2011

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