When this recording was issued on Philips in the late 1970s
it wasn’t too positively received, at least not in Gramophone,
which was my reference in those days. Unfortunately I don’t
have access to that review any longer. Some years ago when Gramophone
under the header ‘Archive’ on their home page made
all the back issues since 1923 available, I disposed of my annual
volumes collected since the early 1970s but filling, after almost
forty years, several metres of shelf space. Now that free access
has ceased and been supplanted by subscription. I do miss my
Coming fresh to this budget price issue, albeit somewhat prejudiced
through the rather dim memory of the review, I at once became
positively inclined. This was thanks to the good recording -
I can’t recall a really bad Philips recording from this
period - the lush playing of the excellent Rotterdam Philharmonic
and Edo de Waart’s fresh and youthful conducting. He was
in his mid-thirties when this was made and his music-making
bristles with enthusiasm. He can also linger lovingly over the
many beautiful pages of this score. Just listen to how he caresses
the ‘love music’ at the end of the prelude, leading
over to the erotically charged first scene of the opera with
Octavian and the Marschallin in the latter’s bedchamber.
The music almost comes to a stand-still and one gets time to
draw a deep breath before the imaginary curtain rises and the
rose-cheeked (just my imagination!) Octavian sings Wie du
warst! Wie du bist! Octavian is Frederica von Stade and
I can’t think of anyone challenging her. Still the competition
is formidable: Sena Jurinac (Erich Kleiber), Christa Ludwig
(Karajan I), Irmgard Seefried (Böhm), Yvonne Minton (Solti),
Agnes Baltsa (Karajan II) and Anne Sophie von Otter (Haitink).
They are all tremendously good but von Stade has that extra
ounce of sensuality that makes one understand the Feldmarschallin’s
fascination. Frederica von Stade was also the superior Cherubino
of her time, recording the role complete twice: for Karajan
In many a performance of Der Rosenkavalier it is the
Feldmarschallin that dominates; this in spite of her total absence
during the second act and her rather brief appearance at the
end of the opera. Schwarzkopf overshadows everybody else in
the Karajan recording, Régine Crespin, though less knowing
than Schwarzkopf, rules the Solti recording through her creamy
tones and slightly subdued reading. Here von Stade makes it
clear that the title of the opera is Der Rosenkavalier.
The presentation of the silver rose, one of the most magical
moments in all opera, has never been so enchanting. The confrontation
with Ochs later in the second act is filled with youthful rebellion
and in the last act, disguised as Mariandel, she avoids too
much parody, which only enhances the dignity of the young nobleman.
The concluding trio and duet is also riveting.
Evelyn Lear, who died in July this year (2012) had a long and
distinguished career. In the 1960s she recorded for Deutsche
Grammophon Die Zauberflöte (Pamina), Wozzeck
(Marie) and Lulu (the title role), all three with Karl
Böhm. It was through these recordings that I learnt those
works. Like Elisabeth Söderström she sang all three
leading female roles in Der Rosenkavalier, die Feldmarschallin
from 1971. This was also her farewell performance at the Metropolitan
Opera in 1985. Neither as detailed as Schwarzkopf nor as creamy
as Crespin hers is still a compelling reading, beautifully and
sensitively sung. Just listen to her, before embracing Octavian
in the very first scene, Du bist mein Bub, du bist mein Schatz!
Ich hab’ dich lieb! Lovely singing, one believes in
her. Throughout the Act she etches a truly gripping portrait
of the ageing - well, she is supposed to be 34! - Marschallin,
crowning it with a magical Die Zeit, die ist ein sonderbar
Ding’ (CD 1 tr. 14).
Ruth Welting’s Sophie is not quite in the same class.
She is bright-toned and technically accomplished but she lacks
the warmth and the ethereal top notes of Güden, Donath,
Bonney and Streich. On the other hand she blends well with von
Stade in the central presentation of the silver rose. In the
concluding trio and duet she is also up to the mark.
Jules Bastin’s Baron Ochs auf Lerchenau is not as burlesque
as some. His timbre is lighter than most of his competitors
and this, combined with his somewhat toned-down reading makes
Ochs a much more likeable character than he actually is. Da
geht er hin, der aufgeblasne schlechte Kerl, the Marschallin
sings when the Baron walks out in the first act. Having just
heard Edelmann (Karajan) or Böhme (Böhm) or Jungwirth
(Solti) one wholeheartedly agrees. Here though one shrugs a
bit and murmurs: ‘All right, he’s a bit rude but
never mind.’ Being Belgian Bastin has anyway adopted
some Viennese dialect and though his lighter voice allows him
to sings the highest notes brilliantly without strain he still
has the bottom range as well, amply demonstrated in the act
II finale. There Sophia van Sante is a good Annina and her partner
Valzacchi is eagerly performed by James Atherton. Derek Hammond-Stroud
does what he can with Herr von Faninal. Long before the “Three
Tenors” they each took on the cameo role of the Italian
singer, Pavarotti for Solti, Domingo for Bernstein and Carreras
for de Waart. Stylistically none of them is ideal, for that
one has to go to Gedda (Karajan) or Dermota (Erich Kleiber).
Carreras is however in glorious voice and those who buy the
set for his sake will not be disappointed. Do bear in mind that
he sings for little more than three minutes.
A first choice for this opera has to be Karajan I or Solti or,
if you are satisfied with elderly mono sound, Erich Kleiber
who also is the most Viennese of all. Even so, I doubt that
anyone buying the Edo de Waart set on impulse will be seriously
disappointed and he/she gets the best Octavian of any set.