PERFORMER: Leonie Rysanek, Ernst Haefliger, Gottlob Frick, Kieth Engen, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau; Bavarian State Opera Chorus, Bavarian State Orchestra/Ferenc Fricsay
CATALOGUE NO: 453 106-2 ADD Reissue
Two of these accounts deserve classic status. Bernstein’s 1978 interpretation comes comprehensively packaged as part of DG’s Complete Beethoven Edition with John Eliot Gardiner’s performance of the opera’s first version, Leonore (reviewed in November). The conducting is visionary, with such prizes in the cast as Gundula Janowitz’s lyrically determined Leonore, Lucia Popp’s radiant Marzelline and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s Don Fernando, though Hans Sotin finds Pizarro a touch on the high side. Manfred Jungwirth’s Rocco is clumsily sung, and Rene Kollo manages to wobble his way through Florestan.
Even more strained in this demanding role is Peter Hofmann on the Solti set (1979) – a clear victim of vocal abuse. This is the most disappointing of these recordings vocally, with Hildegard Behrens’s Leonore lacking control and Theo Adam’s Pizarro wobbling and barking by turns. Hans Sotin, however, is in his element as Rocco. Solti’s conducting has dynamism, though he’s inclined to get ahead of himself.
From 1957 comes a far more consistent version superbly directed by Ferenc Fricsay. There’s some intriguing casting. The lyric tenor Ernst Haefliger provides by far the best of the Florestans under discussion, while Rysanek’s Leonore is heartfelt and deeply involving, Frick a profoundly human Rocco and Fischer-Dieskau’s Pizarro surpassingly fine. George Hall