ALBUM TITLE: Humperdinck
WORKS: Hansel and Gretel (in English)
PERFORMER: Jennifer Larmore, Rebecca Evans, Jane Henschel, Rosalind Plowright, Robert Hayward, Sarah Tynan, Diana Montague; New London Children’s Choir; Philharmonia Orchestra/Charles Mackerras
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 3143(2)
This enchanting opera, one of the most melodious, memorable, delightful and scary in the repertoire, has been extraordinarily well served on disc, with one distinguished conductor and set of singers after another expressing affection for it in glowing accounts. This new entry to the lists, the second to be made in English, is worthy to stand beside the wonderful versions under Colin Davis, Jeffrey Tate, Pritchard, Karajan and Solti, though those had more star-studded casts. What distinguishes this version is primarily the vigorous and large-scale conducting of Sir Charles Mackerras. Where most versions dwell on the gorgeous horn sonorities of the opening, he pulls out all the stops for an exceptionally vivid main section of the overture, which shows that he is intent on not treating this as a small-scale children’s piece.
And his singers don’t try, as much as many, to sound childlike, which is a very good thing. Jennifer Larmore as Hansel might sound too mature, but she is so intelligent in her realisation of the role that I let that pass. Rebecca Evans is a tomboy of a Gretel, so they are well matched. Rosalind Plowright, a great artist, is too strident for Mother and would have been more appropriate as the Witch, or doubling the roles – sometimes done on the stage. Mother is the least sympathetic character in the piece. Robert Hayward makes up for it in his ultra-warm portrayal of Father, and Jane Henschel has so much fun as the Witch that you feel it would be mean to begrudge her the odd roasted child. A fine introductory version, in Pountney’s ghoulish and very free translation.