Reviews for IPCD 1092-3
STRAUSS: DER ROSENKAVALIER MET 1944
STRAUSS Der Rosenkavalier • George Szell, cond; Irene Jessner (Marschallin); Nadine Conner (Sophie); Jarmila Novotná (Octavian); Emanuel List (Baron Ochs); Metropolitan Op Ch & O • IMMORTAL PERFORMANCES 1092-3 (3 CDs 201:10) Live: 2/19/1944
& Der Rosenkavalier: Excerpts. Richard Lert, cond; Barbara Kemp (Marschallin); Marion Claire (Sophie); Delia Reinhardt (Octavian); O of the Berlin Staatsoper, 1927–28
Immortal Performances bills its release of a Metropolitan Opera February 19, 1944 broadcast of Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier as a “world premiere on disc.” I am not aware of any previous issues of this broadcast. The conductor is George Szell, then 46 years old, and two years away from the start of his legendary tenure with the Cleveland Orchestra. Szell was a relentless taskmaster whose podium demeanor could be quite intimidating. In his booklet essay, Dewey Faulkner quotes a 1944 Time magazine article that characterized Szell as “one of the most coldly efficient tyrants who ever stood in the Metropolitan orchestra pit.” But like his contemporary and fellow countryman, Fritz Reiner (both were born in Budapest), Szell’s podium manner was not always in confluence with his music-making. In addition to his legendary perfectionism and resulting immaculate execution by the ensembles he led, Szell could bring a lightness of touch, sense of humor, and charm that made him a superb interpreter of the symphonies of Haydn, the tone poems of Richard Strauss (not to mention the waltzes of Johann), and operas such as Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Such is also the case with this 1944 broadcast of Der Rosenkavalier. Szell leads a masterful performance, starting with a propulsive and beautifully played account of the act I orchestral prelude. Throughout, Szell coaxes a glowing quality from the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. And while tempos are often on the brisk side, Szell is also delighted to savor the moments of Viennese charm that recur throughout the work. The closing scene of act II, taken at a spacious tempo, and with a wonderful flexibility, is but one of many such examples. I have a dear friend who insists that whenever he attends a performance of Der Rosenkavalier, he stays until act II’s Presentation of the Rose. He then takes a dinner break, returning just in time for the opera’s radiant final Trio. I have good reason to believe my friend is telling the truth, but even if he is pulling my leg, he raises a point. The music from Der Rosenkavalier that my friend admires can succeed even when interpreted by lesser artists. However, the better part of act II, and especially the chicanery of the first part of act III, demand a very sure, expert hand. Here, Szell proves to be an absolute master, interpreting the music with relish and attention to detail, and with a pacing that never flags. This Rosenkavalier is a precious document of a great, but often misunderstood, conductor.
If the principal singers as a whole are not on Szell’s rarefied level, they certainly don’t let him and Richard Strauss down, either. Irene Jessner brings a rich and lovely lyric soprano and admirable dignity to the central role of the Marschallin. It is perhaps unfortunate that Jessner’s Met predecessor in this role was the great Lotte Lehmann, who brought a sense of warmth, humanity, and vulnerability to her interpretation perhaps never equaled. But on her own terms, Jessner is a fine Marschallin, touchingly introspective in her act I soliloquy, and rising to the occasion in the opera’s concluding moments. Jarmila Novotná brings the same qualities to the trouser role of Octavian as she does to the character that inspired his creation, Cherubino in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro. Novotná, a soprano interpreting a role usually sung by mezzos, embodies Octavian’s youthful passion, humor, and when called upon, resolve. She is a wonderful collaborator in her scenes with Jessner’s Marschallin, and the Sophie of Nadine Conner. The latter’s shimmering lyric soprano, and a bit more temperament than is the norm for this role, are decided strengths. The success in this performance of the Presentation of the Rose and final Trio is due in no small part to Conner’s masterful contribution. The Viennese bass Emanuel List first sang the role of Baron Ochs at the Met on January 4, 1935, the first of 75 performances for that company. In this 1944 broadcast List, a month shy of his 56th birthday, is in solid voice, and not surprisingly the role fits him like a glove. Throughout, List relishes every moment of Hofmannsthal’s text and Strauss’s music. And while List is often given to interpolated touches to the printed score and comic asides, his interpretation never descends into buffoonery. I mentioned Szell’s masterful pacing of the final scene of act II. List is absolutely marvelous here as well, earning a well-deserved ovation. The secondary roles are all well performed (I doubt Szell would have accepted anything less!). Overall, the sound quality of the 1944 broadcast is quite fine, more than sufficient to enjoy all the performance’s considerable strengths. The final 15 minutes are more sonically compromised, but still adequate, thanks to Richard Caniell’s care in its restoration.
The final disc concludes with a series of Rosenkavalier excerpts, taken from late 1920s Berlin studio and in-performance recordings, and featuring Barbara Kemp (Marschallin), Delia Reinhardt (Octavian), and Marion Claire (Sophie). The performances and sound quality are both outstanding. The booklet includes an extensive, informative, and beautifully written essay by Dewey Faulkner on Strauss’s opera and the included performances, a plot synopsis, artist photos and bios, and Richard Caniell’s Recording Notes. This 1944 Met Rosenkavalier is a fine overall performance, and Szell’s conducting is of the highest and most inspired caliber. I look forward to returning to this performance on many occasions.