Braunfels: Die Vögel

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COMPOSERS: Braunfels
LABELS: Decca Entartete Musik
WORKS: Die Vögel
PERFORMER: Hellen Kwon, Endrik Wottrich, Michael Kraus, Wolfgang Holzmair, Matthias Görne Berlin Radio Chorus, Deutsches SO Berlin/Lothar Zagrosek
CATALOGUE NO: 448 679-2
‘I do not believe such a complete work of art has ever before been performed on the German operatic stage,’ wrote Alfred Einstein after Die Vögel’s premiere in Munich in 1920. Ouch! What about a certain composer’s Gesamtkunstwerk? Wagner, Richard Strauss and Humperdinck are all points of reference in describing the style here, but Walter Braunfels’s music has a freshness all of its own. Mozart is recalled too – especially, and aptly, his Papageno – in a score that from its peaceful, almost mystical prelude to an intoxicating Act II love duet and bird choruses is one of the most thrilling finds of Decca’s ongoing ‘Entartete Musik’ series.

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In truth, Die Vögel never quite disappeared. The half-Jewish Braunfels (1882-1954) was banned by the Nazis and went into internal exile, but he and his works (he wrote 12 operas) survived. Composed at the height of his powers and based on Aristophanes’s The Birds, this opera is a rich allegory on the meeting of three worlds – divine, avian and human, the latter represented by two characters fleeing (ironically) the decadence of Art. Wolfgang Holzmair and Matthias Görne stand out for their Lied-like singing and Hellen Kwon is bright as the Nightingale. Lothar Zagrosek conducts boldly. John Allison