24 Jan 2006

Classical Recordings Tips

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Just yesterday, I dropped in on YARGB, and found a posting by Seneca the Younger linking Tyler Cowen‘s survey of recordings of Don Giovanni.

Having my own very decided opinions on the subject ï¼u02c6though our household has never really recovered from the trauma associated with the transition from LP recordings to CDs, and we abandoned any effort to stay courant years ago)ï¼u0152I was quite interested in reading what someone (inevitably) younger and more in touch with developments in recent years, would have to say. I was particularly interested in seeing which versions made the list.

I was very pleased to see that Mr. Cowen was well informed, and basically sound. I thought his opinions came close to being spot on, but I differ with him on a small number of points:

The Klemperer Magic Flute is a version of serious merit, and I think it deserves a high rank among versions of that opera, but it is the historic late 1930s Beecham recording, the first, which remains the best.

In the first place, Sir Thomas Beecham was one of the two greatest conducter interpreters of Mozart of the last century, the other being Bruno Walther. Beecham’s lucid and precise rationalism is equally appropriate to Mozart as Walther’s warm Romanticism. And Beecham’s conducting was accompanied in the historic first recording by an impossible-to-equal group of singers. Gerhard Hüsch is the best of all possible Papagenos. Helge Rosvaenge, Tiana Lemnitz, and Erna Berger were all also extraordinary performers of legendary stature. Klemperer is pretty much at his best in his version, but I’m afraid Thomas Beecham’s best day is a lot better than Otto Klemperer’s best day. Walter Berry is a fine singer, but Hüsch is a demigod.

Cowen correctly identifies the best Giovanni as the Fürtwangler 1953 Salzburg Festspiele recording, with Cesare Siepi, Elisabeth Schwartzkopf, Walter Berry, Otto Edelmann, Elizabeth Grümmer, and Raffaele Arie, but he is somewhat agnostic about the best choice among Fürtwangler Salzburg recordings of different years. I know two of them well. The 1953 was available long ago (via Discophile on St. Mark’s Place) on the luxury pirate BJR label. The 1954 could be gotten on the humble Everest label. Cowen’s friends are right: Fürtwangler was better in the 1953 recording, bringing a completely passionate identification to the music, resulting in an emphatically right momentum.

Best of all, Mr. Cowen’s Amazon link went to a page on which this magnificent recording was accompanied by a review written for Amazon by Jeff Lipscomb of Sacramento, California. Jeff Lipscomb is a find. He is a superb reviewer working on the basis of a serious listening background with excellent taste. I have not yet had time to read all 30 pages of Lipscomb reviews, but I know already that my music collection and Amazon’s bottom line will both soon be richer for these.

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