COMPOSERS: Max Lorenz
LABELS: Medici Arts
WORKS: Wagner’s Mastersinger, Hitler’s Siegfried: a film by Eric Schulz and Claus Wischmann; plus CD – Wagner: Siegfried extract
PERFORMER: Max Lorenz (tenor); with Hilde Zadek (soprano), Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone), Waldemar Kmentt René Kollo (tenor)
CATALOGUE NO: 2056928 (NTSC system; PCM stereo; 16:9 picture format)
All too often Wagner’s radiantly youthful heroes suffer from being portrayed by what Ernest Newman called ‘amphora heldentenors’. Rudolf Bing described the great Dane Lauritz Melchior as ‘looking like a red plush sofa’.
Not so, though, his 1930s German contemporary Max Lorenz. As this hour-long German TV documentary reminds us, he was tall, personable and with a marvellously open-throated, lyrical voice, lighter-toned than Melchior’s but more fluent and nuanced.
Unfortunately the rather catchpenny title has some truth in it; Lorenz’s heyday coincided with that of Hitler, a fan despite the general Nazi distrust of Wagner. But Lorenz, a genial if driven soul with a Jewish wife to whom he was devoted, despite homosexual peccadilloes, was never any kind of Nazi, and used his fame aggressively to protect her family and, we’re told, other Jews.
Consequently he was allowed to continue his career unhindered in the bleak post-war years, and became the revered teacher of a new generation including James King, Jean Cox and Jess Thomas.
The programme wears resolutely German blinkers; rivals like Lauritz Melchior might never have existed, let alone later lyrical heldentenors such as Wolfgang Windgassen or Alberto Remedios.
But it is interesting to hear the admiring memories of singers like Waldemar Kmentt and Hilde Zadek, not to mention René Kollo and the great Fischer-Dieskau himself, and see Lorenz, still impressive in 1960s television footage.
If we hear too little of his great days, that’s partly redressed by the accompanying CD – Act I of Siegfried from 1938 Buenos Aires, and Act II fragments, ringing still through rudimentary sound. Michael Scott Rohan