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Reviews for Der Fliegende Holländer | IPCD 1051-2
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Reviews for IPCD 1051-2


Fritz Reiner, cond; Kirsten Flagstad (Senta); Herbert Janssen (Holländer); Ludwig Weber (Daland); Max Lorenz (Erik); Ch & O of Royal Opera, Covent Garden IMMORTAL PERFORMANCES IPCD 1051-2 (2 monaural CDs: 132:48) Live recording: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 6/1937

& Wagner DER FLIEGENDE HOLLÄNDER: Senta’s Ballad (Flagstad/Merola, 1949)

& Strauss Befreit. Allerseelen. Cäcilie (Flagstad/Merola, 1950)

Henry Fogel
FANFARE magazine
July / August 2015

Score another triumph for Richard Caniell and his remarkable Immortal Performances label. I do not use the word “remarkable” lightly. The truth is that Immortal Performances has consistently been reissuing performances that have been issued before in some form, often repeatedly, and inevitably the quality of this label’s restoration is miles beyond what has gone before. That is certainly true of this Dutchman, which has had a checkered history. Even in this production it has been labeled “slightly abridged” because of the apparent loss of the original recording of the Erik-Senta scene from the second act (the scene that follows Senta’s Ballade), which has simply been omitted here. Wisely, Immortal Performances puts the disc break after the Ballade, which is preferable to creating a gap of a few seconds in the music. A few other chunks that were missing and were not as self-contained as that duet have been filled in with excerpts from other performances, connected with keeping Daland (Weber) and Reiner consistently throughout. Caniell explains in detail where these occur in his notes accompanying the set.

EMI intended to record as much of Kirsten Flagstad as they could in the 1937 “Coronation Season” at Covent Garden. They made test recordings of the performances of The Flying Dutchman on June 7 and June 11, 1937, and a few other tests on June 16 (with a different Erik). The latter have remained missing and are presumably lost. EMI did not do a very good job of keeping and documenting what they had, which has created problems for those who would try to restore and make available these treasures. (The famed Beecham/Melchior/Flagstad Tristan is another example of EMI making a mess of its valuable archive).

Since this was to focus on Flagstad, EMI did not apparently record the Overture, so Caniell provides a Reiner/Metropolitan performance from 1950 to get the performance started. Once past that exciting and taut performance, we are thrust into a performance of incredible momentum and drama, and with stunningly good sound for a 1937 live recording. Prior issues, starting with Ed Smith’s LPs and then a variety of other labels including HRE, Rococo, Discocorp, Legato/Standing Room Only have issued parts or all of the material, usually incorrectly pitched and with more distortion and compression than we have here. This release opens up the sound of this performance in a way that has never been the case before.

Having Flagstad’s Senta, captured here in the prime of her career, is the obvious selling point for this set. Indeed her performance may surprise those listeners who have typed her as a matronly personality. She makes real the naïve, sacrificing, and hopelessly romantic maiden that Wagner imagined in creating his Senta, with singing that is extraordinarily beautiful. The highlight is “Wie aus der Ferne,” the second act duet between Senta and the Dutchman. Flagstad sings with a tenderness and a glowing radiance that no other Senta has duplicated. What is particularly special here is the interaction between Flagstad and Janssen—not a baritone and soprano singing to us, but two characters relating with specificity to each other. It is this duet, rather than the Ballade, that is the locus of Flagstad’s performance. One example: Senta’s first line, after the Dutchman’s opening of that duet, is “Versank ich jetzt in wunderbares Träumen?” (“Am I deep in a wonderful dream?”). Flagstad applies a soft half-tone to this line that indeed conveys the complete psychological change she has undergone upon encountering the Dutchman.

Janssen too is a uniquely specific Dutchman. One normally thinks of Schorr and George London as perhaps the greatest of Dutchmen on disc, and indeed Janssen lacks the particularly lovely and darkly focused sound of those two. But his voice makes clear the desperation and anguish of the character, and the specificity of his way of inflecting individual words and whole phrases makes his portrayal treasurable. The Dutchman is one of Wagner’s darkest characters, in a state of perpetual despondency. The risks for a singer portraying this character are to so wallow in that gloom that the result is a monochromatic bore, or alternately to concentrate on the music so that what we get is a vocal concert rather than Wagner’s music drama. Janssen avoids either extreme, giving us the complexity and depth of the character.

What strikes me about this performance, more than any one specific element, is its dramatic force and unity. This is a true musical and dramatic ensemble performance, where the characters seem to be truly interacting with each other and engaged in a real drama, rather than a high level vocal concert. These are characters who listen to, and react to and with each other. Even the orchestra seems wholly involved with the drama. What we have throughout the cast is singers actually singing on the text, as opposed to singing notes to which they have added words. This entire performance seems to me to go right to the core of singing as a heightened form of communication, not the generalized communication of broad emotional areas, but the narrow and specific communication of an actual dramatic situation. I can only guess, since I lack any inside knowledge of this production and its history, but usually when that level of communication spreads across an entire cast it is the conductor who made it happen.

The remainder of the cast is strong, particularly Ludwig Weber’s Daland, again given here as a complete human being rather than a one-dimensional greedy villain, is another asset of the performance, and what we hear of Max Lorenz’s Erik makes us regret the fact that his big scene with Senta is lost.

Fritz Reiner deserves as much credit as Flagstad and Janssen for the success of this performance. Dutchman is an uneven work, the work of a composer still finding his voice, and unless carefully shaped the opera can drag or lack dramatic shape. Reiner brings a unique combination of musical strengths to this performance: a strong rhythmic pulse, a blend of supple and firm phrasing, carefully graded dynamics, and above all a continuous momentum that carries everything along with a sense of inevitability. Even the skillfully managed insertions to replace missing material never interrupt that flow, which is a credit to the skills of Caniell. If you have this performance in some other restoration, you really have not heard it at all and need to replace it with this. It is worth pointing out that Immortal Performances upholds their usual high production values beyond the technical quality of the recording. The booklet contains wonderful photographs and two extremely valuable essays by Caniell.

As those who follow this label know, there is almost always going to be some interesting filler. Here we have excerpts from two Standard Hour radio broadcasts featuring Flagstad, with the San Francisco Opera Orchestra conducted by Gaetano Merola. Her 1949 concert performance of Senta’s Ballade is more richly vocalized than her performance within the context of the opera (in part due to the better recording quality), but I find the timidity or hesitance expressed in the 1937 performance closer to the mark. Her singing of the three Strauss songs is glorious.


Fritz Reiner, cond; Kirsten Flagstad (Senta); Herbert Janssen (Holländer); Ludwig Weber (Daland); Max Lorenz (Erik); Ch & O of Royal Opera, Covent Garden IMMORTAL PERFORMANCES IPCD 1051-2 (2 monaural CDs: 132:48) Live recording: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 6/1937

& Wagner DER FLIEGENDE HOLLÄNDER: Senta’s Ballad (Flagstad/Merola, 1949)

& Strauss Befreit. Allerseelen. Cäcilie (Flagstad/Merola, 1950)

Colin Clarke
FANFARE magazine
July / August 2015

The majority of this performance hails from the evening of June 11, 1937. Caniell states that “some 92% of this performance is conducted by Fritz Reiner”; the balance comes from a 1936 broadcast conducted by Carl Leonhardt plus an Overture conducted by Reiner taken from a 1950 Met broadcast (and a fiery and feisty Overture it is). Act II is completely June 11, but minus the Erik-Senta scene. The recording is actually EMI, as part of its efforts to record as much as possible of Flagstad in the 1937 season.

It is only, perhaps, when one catches oneself listening with no bar to enjoyment from sonics that one realizes just how fine the restoration is here—a little dry, but maybe altering that is wanting everything. Possibly this Holländer is Caniell’s finest work to date? Quite a claim if so, but listening to act I it is Reiner’s capturing of the atmosphere of Wagner’s great score (Holländer is only “not great” when compared to Wagner’s own later work, not when compared to just about anyone else) that impresses. There seems to be no bar between listener and performers, which is what great transfers are about. The level of orchestra detail is amazing (try track 7: “Weit komm’ ich her”), while the orchestral explosion that opens act III is visceral indeed.

The casting is luxuriant. Ludwig Weber’s Daland has great strength, and Herbert Janssen has the ability to project the endless suffering of the Dutchman. (Curiously I recently, in February 2015, heard the Covent Garden Holländer with Bryn Terfel, and he too has this ability: The conductor on that occasion was Andris Nelsons.) Perhaps some might pine for the likes of London, Schorr, or Hotter, but Janssen’s reading is intensely human. His “Wie aus der ferne” (act II), deliberately tremulous, is fragility itself, and the duet with Senta, which finds Flagstad on absolutely top form, is the epitome of Wagnerian beauty. Flagstad’s long, soaring lines are gorgeously lyrical, almost post-Schubertian in that respect. It is Flagstad that alone might be said to justify purchase of this performance, despite not being at her vocal best in Senta’s Ballad.

Interestingly, it took repeated listenings for Weber’s Daland in act II to truly resonate. He begins rather distanced, and it is only as one hears him again and again that one hears the subtleties of his deeply considered reading. If the ladies’ chorus (act II) is a touch less impressive than those of their gentleman counterparts, maybe they were doomed anyway to stand in contrast to Flagstad’s remarkable Senta. Mary Jared is an acceptable Mary; Max Lorenz is a more than acceptable Erik, though, in fine, ringing voice, ardent and with no detectable sign of strain. As the Steersman, Karl Ostertag gives the impression of a lusty young sea lad, without being absolutely gripping in doing so; he sounds quite strained in the upper regions of his voice as well.

Inevitable caveats aside, plus the loss of some music, this remains a Holländer that should (no, must) sit on every serious Wagnerian’s shelf. That only leaves the bonuses. First up, Senta’s Ballad, with Flagstad caught on a 1949 Standard Hour broadcast. The sound is nicely focused, but compared to their Met counterparts the San Franciscans sound more than a tad bored, and Flagstad’s phrasing is rather more choppy than in the opera proper here. There is plenty of vocal nuance readily available to the listener, though, and I would hate to discourage anyone from sampling the extras. More than once this company has delivered essential listening material.

Are Richard Strauss Lieder essential listening material? Well, they can be, and they are here in another Standard Hour event, this time a year later, almost to the day. It was a great idea to round off the set with this trio of songs. Flagstad’s legato is wonderful in Befreit, but it is what happens in Allerseelen that is so interesting. The orchestral introduction is the dictionary definition of lackluster; come la Flagstad, come everything instantaneously teleported right into the Straussian orbit. Flagstad’s way with words is fabulous: It is clear she believes in, and believes, every one. And Heaven knows what had been in the break tea for the orchestra, but the orchestral opening to Cäcilie is an explosion of testosterone. This, of the three, is the one that can truly be described as properly Straussian.

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