, November 2006
Ariadne auf Naxos received its first studio incarnation in this famed set, organised by Walter Legge, conducted by Karajan and featuring a heady roster of singers supported, if that’s not too watery a word, by the characterful Philharmonia in top form. Almost everything that should have gone right during the sessions did so. Minor reservations remain precisely that – minor.
Seefried is the Composer, a role she’d assumed before, and proves ardent and authoritative. Right from Lieber Freund! she brings to bear all her accustomed naturalness and beauty of tone. Rita Streich’s Zerbinetta is every bit as good, though tends to be under-heralded in this role. Her technique is commandingly fluent, her tonal range wonderfully equalized, and her theatrical assumption faultless. Schwarzkopf can be self-consciously knowing; one realises this is an age-old complaint but her way with Meine Partner! does tend to invite the thought, or the criticism. Nevertheless despite the arch drawing attention to oneself, a sort of non-ensemble sliding into the limelight, hers is an unforgettably personalised reading.
Amidst the glitter of the other voices one finds the Dancing Master of Hughes Cuénod whose inimitably high French tenor does have a degree of strain that will not be to all tastes but is full of the richest élan and makes for the most brilliantine of cameos. In this company the Music Teacher of Karl Dönch sounds rather perfunctory and the Major Domo of Alfred Neugebauer gentlemanly but pensionable. Neugebauer made a live recording of this around the same time with Karl Böhm and sounds in considerably better voice there. A cast that includes Otakar Kraus as A Lackey can fairly be said to be batting well down the order. And when one adds that we have one of the best quartet of comedians on disc then the nature and breadth of the casting can be seen for the superior selection it was. The orchestra as noted plays with terrific impetus and subtlety. Dennis Brain’s solos are majestic but only one component. Listen to the cello solos in the Prologue and to the sense of chamber intimacy so winningly conveyed in Kindskopf! Merkt auf. Maybe here, though, and also in the very opening one can detect a certain weakness of Karajan’s – something of a lack of inner dynamism and a promotion of beautifully balanced sonority over theatrical energy. It’s a tendency that is reflected in the lower level of immediacy and backstage badinage than can be found in rival sets.
To bring up the second disc to sixty-eight minutes we also have Schwarzkopf in an almost contemporaneous recording, the closing scene from Capriccio. Once more Legge’s Philharmonia is on hand but this time Otto Ackermann is on the rostrum. Her agility and technical prowess are splendidly realised.
The notes are augmented by scene synopses; a libretto will have to be culled elsewhere or downloaded. The transfers are from relevant LPs and sound very well.