LABELS: Koch Schwann
WORKS: Der Bürger als Edelmann (three-act version, arr. Ustinov)
PERFORMER: Peter Ustinov, Bodil Arnesen, Christa Mayer, Florian Cerny; Via Nova Choir, Munich CO/Karl Anton Rickenbacher
CATALOGUE NO: 3-6578-2
To cut a long story short, there are three versions of the ‘little Molière project’ which Strauss and his poet-in-residence Hugo von Hofmannsthal originally selected as a framework for Ariadne auf Naxos: the play with the opera, the opera without the play and finally the play without the opera. Until now, only the last has lacked representation in any recorded form, and although this format is far from ideal, it does enrich the Strauss discography with the extra 20 minutes of music composed for the Falstaff-like discomfiture of the ‘bourgeois gentilhomme’ surrounded by cod fairies and Turks in the last act. Contrary to received wisdom, all of this is accomplished work, linked to the rest of the action by Monsieur Jourdain’s themes and further quotations from the Lully original, the scoring in turn deft and suitably uproarious.
The problem, as was the case with Koch’s unearthing of the much slighter Donkey’s Shadow, is Peter Ustinov’s narration. A certain amount of plot explanation inevitably pads out some of the spoken links to five minutes plus, but what’s the point of obscuring so much of the music with Ustinov rather than Hofmannsthal text? Some very sophisticated playing from Rickenbacher’s Müncheners gets swamped, especially at the likeably sentimental final curtain – though not all the performance is as sprightly as it could be, and the pastoral duet in Act I is marred by ineptly lumpen singing. David Nice