, January 2009
A rarity in the opera house and the recording studio, Doktor Faust is one of the greatest operas of the twentieth century. Fischer-Dieskau, the towering interpreter of the title-role, has called it the greatest, along with Pfitzner’s Palestrina. Much depends on the quality of Faust and the other leading roles, and in this respect this first DVD set does not prove a major disappointment. Thomas Hampson is in good voice, and particularly noteworthy is the Mephistopheles of Gregory Kunde, marvelously characterized and vocally no less distinguished. Philippe Jordan opts for the edition by Busoni’s pupil, the composer Philipp Jarnach, and does justice to the mysterious sonorities, the magical atmosphere and complex invention. Jarnach did not have access to all the surviving sketch material, which did not surface in the public domain until Antony Beaumont’s edition. This demonstrates that Jarnach’s completion of the final scene is, to put it mildly, an incomplete realization of Busoni’s intentions. (Beaumont’s own solution was recorded by Erato on CD a decade ago with Kent Nagano conducting.) Such is the quality of this work that, whatever the shortcoming of this version and the flaws of the production, it is still worth having.