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Korngold: Die tote Stadt - Leinsdorf

Korngold: Die tote Stadt - Leinsdorf

Dutton  CDLX 7376 (2 discs)

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Opera


Korngold: Die tote Stadt

René Kollo, Paul
Carol Neblett, Marietta - der Erscheinung Mariens
Benjamin Luxon, Frank
Rose Wagemann, Brigitta
Hermann Prey, Fritz
Patricia Clark, Lucienne
Anton de Ridder, Gaston & Victorin
Willi Brokmeier, Graf Albert
Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks
Tölzer Knabenchor
Münchner Rundfunkorchester
Erich Leinsdorf, conductor

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Review by Graham Williams - October 13, 2020

Back in the halcyon days of SA-CD.net there was much excitement and discussion on the forum about the RCA Living Stereo series being released on two or three channel SACDs. With wonderful performances by such legendary artists as Reiner, Munch, Heifitz and Rubinstein. Collectors quickly snapped these releases up and sadly some of these are now unavailable or only to be found on-line at high prices.

Discussion then moved on to the quadraphonic recordings made by RCA around the same period http://www.sa-cd.net/showthread/13191//y?page=first' and with regard to opera, I posted:

“The Leinsdorf (1976) recording of Korngold's ‘Die Tote Stadt’ was recorded in quad.
Playing the RBCD through the processor in Neo 6 does give some idea of what it could sound like in MC SACD. Magnificent!
Charles Gerhardt produced the recording and in an article in Gramophone (Jan.76) explained the trouble that was taken to use the spatial advantages of quad to full effect.
What a shame that these tapes are languishing in a vault in Sony/BMG.”

How many of us wrote to Sony, as suggested in the discussion, I have no idea, but as so often with the ‘major’ record companies there was a deafening silence. In recent years, however, the enterprising Dutton label began to issue historic quadraphonic recordings licensed from various labels including CBS (Columbia) and RCA. The latter focused mainly on the unmissable ‘Classic Film Score’ series recorded in Kingsway Hall, London by the National Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Charles Gerhardt. For these Dutton went back to the original quadraphonic tapes and as anyone who purchased these will confirm, the results are spectacular. In December of last year I wrote to Michael Dutton drawing his attention to this ‘World Premiere Recording’ of ‘Die Tote Stadt’ and requesting that he contact Sony about a possible release on multi-channel SACD. I never received a reply to my letter but actions speak louder than words and happily after a period of some months it has now appeared.

Korngold’s most successful opera ‘Die Tote Stadt’ was premiered on 4th December 1920 simultaneously in Hamburg and Cologne (the latter conducted by Otto Klemperer) and rapidly achieved great success in both Europe and the United States. In the 1930s the work and its composer became a victim of the rise of National Socialism and, like so much of Korngold’s music, fell into obscurity after WW II. Over the past twenty years the work’s fortunes have been reversed with many successful productions being mounted in the opera house, though surprisingly few on disc.

This Dutton release includes much of the documentation found in the original LP set – the composer’s own synopsis, an authoritative essay on the work by Christopher Palmer, the aforementioned article by Charles Gerhardt detailing how the large concert hall of Bavarian Radio was adapted so that the stage action could be best realised and photographs from the recording sessions. The only thing missing is a libretto but an excellent German/English one may be found online at http://www.orpheusireland.ie/die-tote-stadt-start.html

The two main protagonists of the opera, - Paul and Marie/Marietta – are sung by René Kollo and Carol Neblett respectively, who do full justice to their taxing roles that includes the famous Marietta’s lute song ‘Gluck, das mir verblieb’ (which is actually a duet). The other hit number, ‘Pierrot’s Tanzlied’, features Hermann Prey whose characteristically creamy voice is ideal for this music, though it is comes over as somewhat schmaltzy thanks to the enervating tempo he adopts. The supporting roles are of comparable vocal quality. Leinsdorf wisely agreed to present the opera uncut and his thrilling conducting, expertly directing the gargantuan orchestral forces that the composer employs – triple woodwind, four horns, three trumpets, tuba, timpani, two harps, piano, celesta, church bells, harmonium, organ and much more – plus the sumptuous playing of the Munich Radio Orchestra delivering Korngold’s glittering orchestration and melodic opulence with aplomb are major factors in the success of this recording.

The use of quadraphonic sound is used with discretion both to enhance the action (on and offstage) and convey the atmosphere of a live performance. Gerhardt and engineer Alfons Seebacher have been most successful in both of these aspects. The soundstage is wide and deep and the singers move realistically in and around it. The impressive church bells and organ in Act II were overdubbed at St Albans Cathedral, Hertfordshire, providing sounds that would be difficult for most opera houses to emulate.

Korngold aficionados will be delighted with this quadraphonic SACD production, while those perhaps only familiar with his film scores and Violin Concerto should investigate this release without delay. It is fair to say that though the composer’s music has its own unique voice, admirers of the operas of Puccini and Richard Strauss will find this work very much to their liking.

Highly recommended.

Copyright © 2020 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

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Comments (3)
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Comment by Paul Hannah - October 28, 2020 (1 of 3)

Have to agree with Graham's review I have owned the stereo version of this opera for a few years.........and if as Graham states you like Puccini or Strauss you will enjoy this opera !

Comment by Joseph Ponessa - October 29, 2020 (2 of 3)

Thank you, Graham Williams, for promoting the world premiere recording of this opera, conducted by Leinsdorf more than half a century after its double stage premiere under Klemperer and Egon Pollak almost precisely a century ago. I have listened to the Dutton SACDs twice now, and plan to hear them again soon.
I am an aficionado of this opera, having collected all the videos and all but one of the recordings. Last year at La Scala I was able to catch an outstanding live performance by Klaus Florian Vogt, who can also be heard on excellent RBCD from Frankfurt and DVD from Helsinki. His vast vocal range allows him to assume the role of Paul without resorting to falsetto.
I beat the odds getting to La Scala. First, I had no advance ticket. Second, I was actually supposed to be in Florence that day, but things weren't working out for me there. So I jumped on a fast train in mid-afternoon, made it into Milan an hour before the show began, ran into a fancy hotel shouting "I need a room! Expense is no object!" and grabbed a taxi which pulled up at the very front of the opera house. Since it was a less-well-known German opera, seats were still available, and I got a ticket as the first notes could be heard, and was a very happy camper from my own box directly above stage left. I was struck by what a large stage presence the tenor makes, in person and singing.
Getting to La Scala is always a miracle, of which there have now been only three in my lifetime.
Having this wonderful surround-sound SACD set is equally miraculous. It is just like being there, eyes closed.
Thanks again, Graham Williams and Michael J. Dutton!

Comment by Graham Williams - November 2, 2020 (3 of 3)

Paul and Joseph
Thanks guys for your comments and endorsement of this recording. I hope that those who do not know this wonderful opera will be encouraged to investigate it further.