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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
The Flying Dutchman - opera in three acts (1843)
Daland - Joseph Greindl (bass); Senta - Annelies Kupper (soprano); Erik - Wolfgang Windgassen (tenor); Mary - Sieglinde Wagner (contralto); Steersman - Ernst Haefliger (tenor); Dutchman - Josef Metternich (baritone)
RIAS Kammerchor
RIAS Orchester, Berlin/Ferenc Fricsay
rec. Jesus Christus Kirche, Berlin, Germany, 18-24 October 1952. AAD. Mono
ELOQUENCE 48071992 [2 CDs: 125:15]

Richard Wagner presented this opera with a rich score and a clear plot. It is based on a story - in turn founded on a legend - by Heinrich Heine written when the poet was aged 30. Wagner conducted the opera's premiere in Dresden in 1843.

Deutsche Grammophon, for whom Fricsay in the early fifties was a resident conductor, had a good line up of well-drilled singers and chorus and they deliver an energetic reading. The 1950s was a rich period for expensive studio recordings and the only limitation was the primitive tape-recording editing techniques necessary before eventual transfer to long-player discs. The opera was recorded in a Berlin venue favoured by DG for a number of its orchestral recordings of the period.

Although what we have here is a mono recording the orchestra is captured with a remarkable illusion of separation and clarity. The powerful overture is a joy to listen to and the singer/orchestra balance is spot-on. The singers are close enough to enable good diction without drowning the orchestral detail which is distinctly heard.

Soprano Annelies Kupper, as Senta, is at home in Wagnerian roles and here she is certainly on form. Her singing is a delight and she plays the part of Daland's daughter with conviction. Josef Metternich, at the height of his career in the early fifties, had made a name for taking on powerful characters. In this role of the spectre his bass richness does not disappoint. Heldentenor, Wolfgang Windgassen, also of good pedigree, is unfortunately not always at his best in the role of Erik. In a few places he does not always pitch the note cleanly.

The orchestra contributes magnificently and sensitively under Fricsay's direction to bring out the magnificent colours in Wagner's score. The recording comes complete with its ballet. The top strings are a touch 'brittle' perhaps in this transfer yet re-equalization of the bass registers allows the low strings to contribute properly without being intrusive. One criticism: the timpani in one of the recording sessions comes across as slightly sharp.

The break between CDs in Act II is made at a point where the music is left hanging in a split number. This seems odd when there is plenty of space for Acts II and III to fit together on one disc.

The booklet provides a full synopsis and the interesting notes by Peter Bassett are in English only. It is a pity that the synopsis is not indexed with track numbers to aid the listener. Overall though this is a recording that is well worth its bargain price.

Raymond J Walker


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