Mozart: Die Zauberflöte / Furtwängler, Greindl, Lipp, Seefried, Et Al
MOZART The Magic Flute ? Wilhelm Furtwängler (cond); Irmgard Seefried ( Pamina ); Wilma Lipp ( Queen of the Night ); Walter Ludwig ( Tamino ); Karl Schmitt-Walter ( Papageno ); Josef Greindl ( Sarastro ); Vienna St Op Ch; Vienna PO ? ORFEO C 650 053 D, mono (3 CDs: 176:35) Live: Salzburg 7/27/1949)
This performance was first publicly issued on the Discocorp LP label, and then on CD by Arlecchino and Arkadia, the latter slightly better than the former. It was then sonically improved on by Music & Arts, and in Fanfare 19:5 I reviewed the Music & Arts release. Now, along comes an Orfeo issue that far surpasses both Music & Arts and Tahra (which is almost identical to Music & Arts). Orfeo?s is the first release that is officially sanctioned by the Salzburg Festival, and while the original master tapes have not survived, the Salzburg archives had at their disposal material superior to the off-the-air sources that have been the basis of prior releases. The sound here is far less harsh and strident, completely lacking the distortion found on all prior releases, and in fact even superior to EMI?s release of the slightly superior 1951 performance with a similar cast (EMI 65356).
From the chords that open the Overture, it is apparent that this is a weighty reading, one very far from today?s theories of how to perform Mozart. Those opening chords are arpeggiated (or, depending on your point of view, just sloppy), and have a significant mass about them. Throughout, Furtwängler?s performance is rooted in the 19th-century tradition?rich in color and texture, filled with tempo adjustments, and far weightier than we would encounter today. If you are open to this approach, it has probably never been done better. It is, as I said in my earlier review, a noble, humanistic Flute , one where the text has a strong impact on the conductor?s view of how to manage the music; it is a performance that smells of the theater. But if your idea of this music is that it must be light and fleeting, you will probably wish to avoid it.
The cast is very good, though not as good as the 1951 repeat of the production that is on EMI. There were two important cast changes between 1949 and 1951, and both are significant improvements (probably not a coincidence). The biggest difference is the 1951 Papageno, Erich Kunz, who is superb vocally and dramatically; Karl Schmitt-Walter here is limited by a dry timbre and what seems to be a lack of dramatic and comedic imagination. The other change is Tamino. Walter Ludwig here is sensitively phrased and dramatically inflected, but his tone is throaty; in 1951, Anton Dermota was a clear improvement.
Aside from that, the cast is the same in both, and is superb. Particularly noteworthy is Irmgard Seefried?s glowing Pamina. Wilma Lipp manages the second of the Queen?s two viciously difficult arias better than the first, but few have done better with both. Josef Greindl?s Sarastro is thrillingly dark-toned, though admittedly occasionally out of tune. The remainder of the cast is luxurious?in fact, only at a level possible in a festival setting like this.
Furtwängler collectors are going to want this?even if they have the Tahra or Music & Arts editions. The warm, clear sound here is such an improvement that it casts the performance in a new light. Helpful and interesting notes accompany the set, but (as is typical of historic reissues) no text or translation.
FANFARE: Henry Fogel
Catalog Number: ORF-C650053
Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Conductor: Wilhelm Furtwängler
Orchestra/Ensemble: Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Vienna State Opera Chorus
Performer: Edith Oravez, Elisabeth Höngen, Elisabeth Rutgers, Ernst Haefliger, Gertrud Grob-Prandl, Hermann Gallos, Hermann Uhde, Irmgard Seefried, Josef Greindl, Karl Dönch, Karl Schmitt-Walter, Paul Schöffler, Peter Klein, Polly Batic, Ruthilde Boesch, Sieglinde Wagner, Walther Ludwig, Wilma Lipp