Kálmán: Die Csárdásfürstin / Bonynge, Et Al

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As the important, influential Viennese operetta Die Csárdásfürstin has not been captured on many complete recorded versions, it’s particularly nice to welcome this beguiling new one...The music very craftily fuses Vienna with Budapest in a way that hadn’t been heard since Johann Strauss’s 1885 Zigeunerbaron, and was not heard again until Kálmán’s own Gräfin Mariza in 1924...Operetta maven Richard Bonynge has a close connection with Kálmán, having conducted this score in Australia and elsewhere. His enthusiasm for its riches is manifest in this robust yet finely-detailed recording, in which the vaguely klezmer-like Gypsy string and wind underpinnings come through clearly, as played by the Slovak Radio orchestra, which gets the hot-pepper and tokay accentuation stylishly right...Yvonne Kenny sings prettily as Sylva Varescu...Mojca Erdmann is a delightful Countess Stasi...Naxos adds some Kálmán extras at the end and includes a brief speaking cameo by the composer’s daughter, Yvonne." -- Opera News, April 2005

This is by no means the first good recording of Emmerich Kálmán’s operetta masterpiece The Gypsy Princess. That honor probably goes to the classic EMI, with Anneliese Rothenberger and Nicolai Gedda...But if you are fond of the Viennese operetta idiom and you don’t know this work or lack a recording of it, this new set is a must.

One of its attributes is the sound quality—and while I don’t have four-channel sound, I do have both two and three-channel setups, and in both of those incarnations this hybrid SACD was a stunning audio achievement. Even played as a standard two-channel CD the sound is warm, richly colored, highly detailed without ever seeming clinical. Naxos indicates that this disc contains three versions of the same music: a 5.1 multichannel DSD surround-sound version, a two-channel DSD version, and a standard two-channel stereo version.

It is, however, musical qualities that most strongly recommend this set, and chief among those is Richard Bonynge’s conducting. I should make clear that I have never been a Bonynge enthusiast, and find that in the classic bel canto operas he recorded with his wife Joan Sutherland his conducting lacked incisiveness, rhythmic spine, and momentum. For that very reason, this performance is astonishing—those are precisely the qualities he brings to Kálmán’s delightful score, along with an affectionate warmth that is in evidence from the first notes of the Prelude. It is hard to imagine a more engaging and involving performance of the score than Bonynge gives here. The two leads, Yvonne Kenny and Michael Roider, sound as if they were born to sing this music, even though one of them (Kenny) is Australian. Roider, born in Salzburg, has a lovely lyric tenor voice and the style in his blood. Kenny’s lyric soprano has long been known to us in Mozart and other “serious” repertoire, but she shows a lovely comedic flair and a natural feel for the line of Kálmán’s music. The rest of the cast is splendid, and the entire thing is a treat. It has the feel of a real performance, despite being a studio recording (made in 2002). The second disc is filled with orchestral excerpts from other Kálmán works, which are well worth hearing, and are conducted with the same skill.

Naxos should have gone to the expense of supplying a full libretto. Their detailed synopsis is very helpful, and probably enough for a work that doesn’t deal in dramatic complexity, but we still miss some of the wit and some of the charm of the piece without having a full text available. Nonetheless, this is a highly recommendable set.

Henry Fogel, FANFARE

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 8660105-06

  • UPC: 730099610520

  • Label: Naxos

  • Composer: Emmerich Kálmán

  • Conductor: Richard Bonynge

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Slovak Philharmonic Choir, Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra

  • Performer: Heinz Holecek, Hellmuth Klumpp, Karl-Michael Ebner, Marko Kathol, Michael Roider, Mojca Erdmann, Yvonne Kálmán, Yvonne Kenny