WORKS: Hänsel und Gretel
PERFORMER: Bernd Weikl, Hildegard Behrens, Jennifer Larmore, Ruth Ziesak, Hanna Schwarz, Rosemary Joshua, Christine SchäferBavarian RSO, Tölz Boys Choir/ Donald Runnicles
CATALOGUE NO: 4509-94549-2 DDD
Once dismissed from a conducting post for ‘excessive conscientiousness and time-wasting thoroughness’, Engelbert Humperdinck famously put his fastidious precision to use supplying a few bars of music to cover a scene change in Parsifal. Similar skills are evident in his fairy-tale opera Hansel and Gretel, however, and it is Donald Runnicles’s loving care for detail that chiefly marks out this superbly conducted new set. His tenderness sometimes encourages him towards measured tempi, but never weightier than the music can bear.
Ruth Ziesak’s Gretel lightens her voice to sound convincingly girlish, and in the Evening Prayer she really is a frightened child lost in the wood rather than a famous soprano delivering a set piece. Jennifer Larmore’s Hansel is more mature and, beautifully sung as it is, her voice is not ideally integrated with Ziesak’s. Hildegard Behrens’s Mother is raddled to the point of unpleasantness, but her husband in the story is the jovial Bernd Weikl. Hanna Schwarz wickedly camps up the cracked voice of the Witch; Rosemary Joshua and Christine Schäfer are delightful as the Sandman and Dew Fairy.
Now can we please have Humperdinck’s even greater masterpiece, Königskinder, from Runnicles? Barry Millington