Beethoven: Fidelio

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Fidelio
PERFORMER: Angela Denoke, Jon Villars, László Polgár, Alan Held, Thomas Quasthoff, Juliane Banse; Arnold Schoenberg Choir, Berlin PO/Simon Rattle
CATALOGUE NO: 5 57555 2
Rattle’s finely recorded new Fidelio gets off to a good start, with a lively account of the opening duet that vividly conveys the bickering of Marzelline and her intellectually challenged suitor Jaquino. Juliane Banse perfectly captures the alternating emotions of longing and hope in Marzelline’s aria, too; but already in the famous canonic quartet, doubts begin to creep in. This is the moment where the action freezes, and each character thus far introduced gives expression to their inner feelings. While it hardly needs the self-indulgent lingering of Bernstein’s DG recording, the music’s sense of awe – to say nothing of its sheer beauty – cries out for more space than Rattle allows.

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Any performance of Fidelio stands or falls on the strength of its two central characters, and here Angela Denoke’s Leonore and Jon Villars’s Florestan are disappointingly lacking in dignity and authority. Moreover, the spoken dialogue has been so drastically pruned that the build-up of compassion between them is never adequately established. Denoke’s delivery of what remains is in any case rather flat – particularly compared with the deeply moving acting of Christa Ludwig on the classic recording by Klemperer. That peerlessly cast version also has the advantage of Jon Vickers at the peak of his form, and in Klemperer’s hands the ecstatic duet as Florestan and his wife are finally reunited achieves lift-off in a manner that it cannot do at the curiously cautious tempo adopted by Rattle. However often you hear the Klemperer it never fails to bring a lump to the throat. Its humanity is unlikely ever to be surpassed. Misha Donat