For many Humperdinck devotees Königskinder is even more fascinating and moving an opera than the better-known Hänsel und Gretel. This new recording was made live last year in a concert performance at the Festival de Radio France et Montpellier. Its star is Jonas Kaufmann, whose passionate, fresh-voiced King’s Son is easily on a par with that of Thomas Moser in Profil Hänssler’s reissue (reviewed in February) of the 1996 Calig recording, conducted by Fabio Luisi. Ofelia Sala is a very acceptable Goose Girl, but doesn’t have quite the spontaneity or innocence of Luisi’s Dagmar Schellenberger, let alone the touching girlish quality of Helen Donath on the 1977 EMI recording under Heinz Wallberg (currently unavailable).
The orchestral playing is adequate, but Armin Jordan is less well attuned than Luisi to the work’s blend of pathos and heartwarming compassion. Nor does Detlef Roth greatly inspire in his incarnation of the key role of the Minstrel – the mysteriously prescient blind fiddler who first encourages the Goose Girl to fulfil her destiny and finally organises the burial of the doomed couple by the new generation of children, warmer-hearted than their unfeeling parents. Luisi’s Dietrich Henschel is preferable here, though only Wallberg’s incomparable Hermann Prey ideally suggests both the sense of deep sorrow and glimpse of a better world. Barry Millington