Humperdinck: Hänsel und Gretel

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Humperdinck
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Hänsel und Gretel
PERFORMER: Franz Grundheber, Gwyneth Jones, Ann Murray, Edita Gruberová, Christa Ludwig, Barbara Bonney; Dresden Opera Women’s Chorus & Children’s Chorus, Dresden Staatskapelle/Colin Davis
CATALOGUE NO: 438 013-2 DDD
Ever since Karajan’s 1950s mono recording, Humperdinck’s fairy-tale opera has been lucky on disc. Davis’s entry into the field comes up both against that much admired interpretation as well as a trio from Solti (a somewhat over ‘Wagnerised’ account on Decca), John Pritchard (CBS) and Jeffrey Tate (EMI).

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Davis’s greatest attribute is the Dresden Staatskapelle. The orchestra has admittedly been given too restricted a recorded perspective for my taste, but one is unlikely to hear this gloriously inventive music more beautifully and lovingly played and, under Davis’s inspired and detailed direction, one can revel in the aural delights of the orchestra’s woodwind, the silkiness of its strings and the wonderfully open sound of the horns.

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The cast of singers is fine too. As Hansel and Gretel, Ann Murray and Edita Gruberová often pare their voices down to express an ideal childlike innocence, while Gwyneth Jones is unusually steady of voice as the mother and, where we might perhaps have expected her larger-than-life voice to be particularly appropriate – in the role of the witch – we have instead a witty romp from veteran Christa Ludwig. Also worth a mention is the warm-hearted singing of Franz Grundheber as the father and delightful cameos from Barbara Bonney and Christiane Oelze as the Sandman and Dew Fairy, respectively. Matthew Rye