Kalman

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Kalman
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Kalman
WORKS: Excerpts from operas
PERFORMER: Slovak Philharmonic Choir/Slovak Radio SO/Richard Bonynge
CATALOGUE NO: 6.1100075
No wonder that Die Csárdásfürstin was a hot ticket in Vienna during the First World War. A Hungarian showgirl marries a double-barrelled Austrian aristocrat and the political moral is obvious and popular. In time of war, differences between the two kingdoms should be set aside. Operetta was indeed the glue that kept the Habsburg Empire together.

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Emmerich Kálmán’s gift to the form was a palette of orchestral colours that belongs to the eastern end of the Empire, though it often repays a debt to Jewish musical traditions as much as to Hungarian gypsies. Richard Bonynge in the pit for this studio recording relishes the ‘exoticism’ written skin deep into Kálmán’s score, though Willy Mattes for EMI gives a more idiomatic account of, say, the Prelude. Mattes’s recording is an altogether grander affair, with an acoustic that may be too rich for some palates, though it’s good to have some of the dialogue.

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The honours, of course, should belong to the singers. Yvonne Kenny for Bonynge is in fine form, if perhaps a trifle matronly, as Sylva the gypsy princess – a merry widow before her time? (Annaliese Rothenberger for EMI is every inch the showgirl.) Kenny’s tenor, Michael Roider, has just the right degree of plaintiveness in the voice for the blue-blooded Prince Edwin. And his waltz duet with Countess Stasi, the girl his parents have chosen for him, is as haunting as ever with Mojca Erdmann everything a soubrette should be – silvery tones floating Kálmán’s dark ruminative strings as she settles for social convenience rather than love. Deft musical dramatist that he was, Kálmán always knew how to make the stiffest upper lip tremble – and smile. But is there perhaps too much smiling in Willy Mattes’s recording? Bonynge knows exactly how to twitch a lip and jerk a tear. Christopher Cook