Beethoven: Fidelio

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Fidelio
PERFORMER: Kirsten Flagstad, Julius Patzak, Paul Schöffler, Hans Braun, Josef Greindl, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Anton Dermota; Vienna State Opera Chorus, Vienna PO/Wilhelm Furtwängler
CATALOGUE NO: CHS 7 64901 2 ADD mono
Listening to Kirsten Flagstad’s ‘Abscheulicher!’ on this legendary 1950 Salzburg Festival recording, at last issued officially in a decent CD transfer, one can’t help calling to mind the young Richard Wagner’s star-struck admiration for another larger-than-life Leonore, Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient. In both cases personal charisma and a vivid sense of drama were ample compensation for declining vocal powers (though in Flagstad’s case the mature sound of her later years is remarkably free from the persistent wobble affecting today’s superstars).

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As with every singer on this recording, dramatic verisimilitude is a by-product of a secure vocal technique, a coaxing-out of what is latent in the music, rather than a distorting factor applied from without. A striking instance is Paul Schöffler, whose glorious tone turns Pizarro into a tragic, even noble figure. Patzak’s dignified Florestan, too, has yet to be surpassed, heroic, yet tinged with a gentle pathos.

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Similar sterling qualities inform Greindl’s benevolent and firmly sung Rocco, as well as Schwarzkopf’s and Dermota’s fresh-sounding Marzelline and Jaquino. And to crown it all we have the incandescent conducting of Wilhelm Furtwängler, a palpable, though silent, presence even under the spoken dialogue. Need one say more? Antony Bye