Beethoven: Fidelio

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Fidelio
PERFORMER: Inga Nielsen, Gösta Winbergh, Edith Lienbacher, Herwig Pecoraro, Alan Titus, Kurt Moll; Hungarian Radio Chorus, Nicolaus Esterházy Sinfonia/Michael Halász
CATALOGUE NO: 8.660070-71
Despite some memorable assumptions of the title role and some stellar conductors at the helm, there seem to be no five-star recorded Fidelios. But that’s hardly surprising given the unreasonable challenges Beethoven threw at his performers, requiring from his voices both nimbleness and amplitude, and from his conductor a less than feasible holistic vision. Even Klemperer, whose EMI account continues to lead the field, offers only a partial view.

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So this new Naxos offering, while extraordinarily impressive, joins a glittery roster of honourable mentions, even though its conductor, Michael Halász, comes as close as any to reconciling intimacy and apotheosis. His direction, indeed, is near faultless: he obtains from the Nicolaus Esterházy Sinfonia playing of exactitude and polish and from all the participants a vigorous yet poised momentum.

Vocally, too, this is a premium price Fidelio (an unsteady Don Fernando apart), cast from international strength yet singularly unanimous of purpose. The Florestan of Gösta Winbergh, clean and robust, the firm Pizarro of Bayreuth’s Wotan-in-waiting, Alan Titus, and the Rocco of Kurt Moll, as resplendent as ever, are complemented by a fresh-sounding pair of juvenile leads in Edith Lienbacher and Herwig Pecoraro.

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And what of the Leonore, Inga Nielsen, the memorable and ideally voiced Salome on the recent Schønwandt recording? As might be expected, she negotiates the coloratura beyond the wildest dreams of the Wagnerian hochdramatischen customarily assigned to the role. Yet, while she rides Strauss’s wilder eruptions with satisfaction, her ‘Abscheulicher’ scena here reveals, sadly, less stentorian vocal equipment. Despite the shortcomings, however, Naxos has given us a wonderful bargain which is almost, but not quite, that elusive five-star Fidelio. Antony Bye