The highlight of Wilhelm Kienzl’s Don Quixote, the hero’s farewell to his dream of knighthood where he realises he has been tricked and deluded, is a ten-minute scena for Heldenbaritone that can stand alongside many of its great 19th-century German predecessors. Indeed, the spontaneity of Kienzl’s musical narration and the evident life-and-death importance of the subject matter to him make me want to hail this 1898 ‘musical tragicomedy’ as something of a lost masterpiece. This composer clearly breathes the same harmonic and melodic air as many of the composers who attempted big Romantic stage works in the shadow of Wagner – indeed Act III has many subtle borrowings from its equivalent in Parsifal, starting with a yearning prelude. But the rich inventiveness of Kienzl’s orchestration and vocal writing and his combination of through-composed music drama and set numbers sound more freshly minted than the evident allegiances of Humperdinck, Pfitzner or Siegfried Wagner.
Gustav Kuhn pilots the Berlin Radio orchestra and some keenly chosen younger stars from today’s German opera houses through a reading of the score that is a good deal more secure and atmospheric than is often accorded to anniversary reprises of unknown works. DeutschlandRadio has captured the results handsomely. If Mohr sounds too young and lustrous a Quixote, one can still enjoy his singing. The English translation of Peter P Pachl’s important and detailed notes, however, is atrocious and, literally, incomprehensible. Mike Ashman