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Franz LEHÁR (1870-1948)
Immer Nur Lächeln - Original operetta highlights
rec. Germany, 1957-1978. digital re-mastering: 2000/2002
Full contents and artist list at end of review
WARNER CLASSICS 9935272 [5 CDs: 321.55]

The major record companies have never been over-generous with their reissued CDs or boxed set’s packaging. This one is no exception. The artists may well be quite unknown to younger operetta fans - or those not living in Germany. If on the other hand, you regularly tuned in to German radio stations in the 1950/1960s you would have heard Fritz Wunderlich, Anneliese Rothenberger, Rudolf Schock and Erika Köth singing operetta favourites. This 5 CD set, devoted almost entirely to the operettas of Franz Lehár, has only one paragraph of notes on the back of the box. No booklet is included.
 
The set covers a lot of operetta ground as the above heading indicates. There is a commonality between CDs 1 and 2 in that both include excerpts from Das Land Des Lächelns (The Land of Smiles) but with different casts. On the first CD Rudolf Schock enchants with his tenderly expressive and silken legato singing of favourites like, “You Are My Heart’s Delight”. By contrast Fritz Wunderlich’s Sou-Chong impresses in a more emotionally charged rendition, you feel he means every word. His ‘Von Apfelblüten einen Kranz’ may not be as smoothly rounded as Schock’s but again he is the more affecting. Erika Köth, as Lisa, is a lyric soprano with a high tessitura but inclined to be a bit shrill; maybe this is the fault of the earlier mono recording (1957). Melitta Muszeley, Wunderlich’s Lisa, is sweet-voiced but not such a young-sounding Lisa as Köth, yet her nicely blended duet with Wunderlich, ‘Wer hat die Liebe’ is gorgeous. Schüchter’s orchestral palette is the more colourful and imaginative.
 
The rest of CD 1 is given over to The Tsarevich (Der Zarewitsch) and Friederike both featuring Schock and Köth. Zarewitsch has some dreamy, treading-on-clouds, love duets especially the waltz song ‘Warum hat jeder Frühling’. Schock is fervidly romantic in Friederike’s hit song, ‘Oh Mädchen, mein Mädchen, wie lieb’ ich dich’.

CD 2 has, besides Wunderlich’s Das Land Des Lächelns, two non-Lehár selections. The first comprises highlights from Leon Jessel’s Black Forest Girl in which Schock and Köth are joined by lyric baritone Hermann Prey. He and Schock are all outdoors, manliness in their duet ‘Wir sind auf der Walz’. Köth as Bärbele in her ‘Ei du lieber Schatten’ is suitably joyous and teasing while Schock is ardent in his ‘Lockende Augen holder Sienen’.
 
This CD closes with four Johann Strauss II oddities that have Anneliese Rothenberger and Marco Bakker singing material from Prinz Methusalem (first performed 1877), Der Zigeunerbaron (a stirring manly song with chorus), Eine Nacht in Venedig and Die Tänzerin Fanny Elssler - all have the Strauss charm.
 
CD 3 mainly comprises music from Lehár’s greatest hit, The Merry Widow. The vitality of this performance is evident right from the start with Mattes’ joyous orchestral Introduction. Then we have that deliciously flirtatious duet between Valencienne (Köth) and Camille (Robert Ilosfalvy) in which she claims she is “a constant wife” while the orchestra suggests otherwise. Later on we encounter the delights of the famous ‘kleinen Pavillon’ duet between the same two. Anneliese Rothenberger, as Hanna Glawari, the Merry Widow, was a great lyric coloratura soprano (she died as recently as 2010) and shone in Mozart and Richard Strauss. Lotte Lehmann called her Sophie, in Rosenkavalier, the best in the world. Her prowess is evident here in so many songs including that favourite ‘Vilja’. She is ably partnered by the wonderful Nicolai Gedda as Danilo, the self-assured dashing playboy until she brings him to heel, sorrowful and bitter, in his ‘Es waren zwei Königskinder’. The comic roles delight especially the men rueing the difficult behaviour of their women and of the coquettes at Maxim’s.
 
This CD is completed by Lehár’s seldom revived operetta, Fair is the World(Schöne Ist Die Welt),its story set amongst the mountains. This time Rudolf Schock is partnered by the lyric and coloratura soprano Renate Holm; another popular opera and operetta star. This show’s music strays from the familiar Viennese operetta territory to include both jazz and tango figures.
 
CD 4 has over half an hour’s music from The Count of Luxemburg which is probably the second most popular Lehár operetta after The Merry Widow. Once again Schock and Köth are in the lead roles shining in that lovely duet, the waltz song ‘Bist du’s lachendes Glück’ (Tell me, can this be love?). Another duet and another hit is ‘Mädel klein Mädel fein’ (Golden stair we will climb) sung by Manfred Schmidt as Armand and Helga Hildebrand as Juliette. Erika Köth enchants as Angèle Didier while Schock is a fervent Count in that wonderfully romantic ‘Es duftet nach Trèfle incarnat’.
 
Paganini told the story of the love of the famed violinist for the sister of Napoleon, installed as the ruler of the small Italian state of Lucca. Once again Schock took the lead role, this time with Melitta Muszely as Maria Anna Elisa. Her strong confident voice can be enjoyed in ‘Liebe, du Himmel auf Erden’. She joins Schock in the lovely duet ‘Niemand liebt dich so wie ich’ (Nobody Could Love You More Than I). Then there is that famous tenor aria, ‘Girls were made to love and kiss’.
 
On CD 5Zigeunerliebe is abrooding Romanian-set love story. It has thewell-known gypsy song duet ‘Es liegt in blauen Fernen’ that points the way to Giuditta (see below) and the heartfelt ‘Gib mir vom Himmelszelt’. This CD, like CD 1, has another Der Zarewitsch. Ittells of thelove life of the son of Tsar Peter the Great who fled Russia with a Finnish girl to live in Italy. After he was persuaded to return to Russia, he was put on trial by his father, and imprisoned. The dreamy song of Sonja (Muszely), ‘Einer wird kommen (Someone will come) is memorable so too is her duet with Wunderlich, ‘Hab’ nur dich allein’ (I have only you) and ‘Warum hat jeder Frühling, ach, nur einen mai?’ (Why does each spring have only one May?).
 
The most impressive item on this final CD is Giuditta. This is Lehár at his most ambitious with operetta nearing opera status. Giuditta has a story line that is not unlike Bizet’s Carmen.
 
This performance has Rothenberger partnered by Nicolai Gedda who is heard at the beginning of the operetta strong and confident and free of love-pangs in his ‘Freunde, das Leben ist lebenswert’. Then as love bites he sings his heart out for ‘Du bist meine Sonne’ and ‘Schönste der Frau’n’. Rothenberger shows off her flighty character and coloratura proficiency in the Carmen-like Spanish-accented ‘In einem Meer von Liebe’ with castanets to the fore. Later she sings the most famous number from this show, ‘Meine Lippen, sie küssen so heiss’. Although Mattes supplies a voluptuous and sensual orchestral backing here, a little-too-pure Rothenberger would have been better advised to let herself go more and look for more expression at the risk of forfeiting her coloratura prowess.
 
A highly enjoyable Lehár operetta collection.
 
Ian Lace




Full contents and artist list 


The Merry Widow (Die Lustige Witwe)(1905) [45.27]
Anneliese Rothenberger - Hanna Glawari; Nicolai Gedda - Count Danilo Danilowitsch; Erika Köth - Valencienne; Robert Ilosfalvy - Camille de Rosillon
Choir of Bayerischen Rundfunks and the Symphony-Orchester Graunka/Willy Mattes  
The Count of Luxemburg (Der Graf Von Luxemburg) (1909) [33.18]
Rudolf Schock - René, Count of Luxemburg; Erika Köth - Angèle Didier
Berlin Symphoniker and Choir/Frank Fox  
The Land of Smiles (Das Land Des Lächelns) (1929)
Two selections:-
1) [30.44] Erika Köth - Lisa; Rudolf Schock - Sou-Chong
Berlin Symphoniker/Wilhelm Schüchter.
2) [23.08] Melitta Muszely - Lisa; Fritz Wunderlich - Sou-Chong
Symphonie-Orchester Graunke/Carl Michalski 
Giuditta (1934) [23.08]
Anneliese Rothenberger - Giuditta; Nicolai Gedda - Octavio
Chor des Theaters am Gärtnerplatz München and Symphonie-Orchester Graunke/Willy Mattes 
Gypsy Love (Zigeunerliebe) (1910) [22.38]
Sári Barabás; Christine Görner; Heinz Hoppe; Harry Friedauer; Heinz Maria Lins
Symphonie-Orchester Graunke/Carl Michalski.  
Paganini (1925) [27.47]
Melitta Muszely - Maria Anna Elisa; Rudolf Schock - Paganini
Günther-Arndt-Chor and FFB-Orchester/Werner Schmidt-Boelcke  
The Tsarevich (Der Zarewitsch) (1927)
1) [19.10] Rudolf Schock - Der Zarewitsch; Erika Köth - Sonja
Berlin Symphoniker/William Schüchter
2) [23.42] Fritz Wunderlich - Der Zarewitsch; Melitta Muszely - Sonja
Symphonie-Orchester Graunke/Carl Michalski  
Friederike (1928) [16.03]
Rudolf Schock - Goethe; Erika Köth - Friederike
Berlin Symphoniker/Wilhelm Schüchter.  
Fair is the World (Schöne Ist Die Welt) (1930) [25.59]
Renate Holm; Rudolf Schock
choir and orchestra/Frank Fox
 
Leon JESSEL (1871-1942)
Black Forest Girl (Schwarzwaldmädel) (1917) [14.17]
Hermann Prey - Blasius/Hans; Erika Köth - Bärbele; Rudolph Schock - Richard
choir and orchestra/Werner Schmidt-Boelcke 



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