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David Denton
David's Review Corner, March 2010

Legendary is a word too often used today, but this recording requires that appellation for it is doubtful that it will ever be surpassed. The record producer, Walter Legge, always ensured that he surrounded his wife, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, with the greatest singers of the day, and for Capriccio he assembled the most perfect cast imaginable. It was a score first performed only fifteen years before this recording began in 1957, and relates the story of Countess Madeleine who finds two men in her life: Olivier, the poet, and Flamand, the composer. They are given the task of composing an opera on the events of the day when they had all come together, Olivier and Flamand both trying to capture the affections of the Countess. But what would be the end of the story, only she can tell them, and we the listener will never know. So we have an opera being fashioned from an opera, so to speak, Strauss giving the Countess the smooth slow moving role while those around her, particularly the young effervescent actress, Clarion, weaving a fast moving web of intrigue. The lightweight tenor, Nicolai Gedda, seduces with the beauty of voice as Flamand; the sonorous tones of the young Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau are ideal for Olivier; Clarion coming from the equally young Christa Ludwig as she looks to capture the Countesses’s brother. There we find Eberhard Wachter showing that he needed no coaxing to sample her pleasures. Then to this star-studded assembly we have the towering presence of Hans Hotter as La Roche, the theatre director who would stage the opera. It has been said that no part ever more suited Schwarzkopf, the character seemingly smouldering with sensuality but hiding it beneath a mask of female sophistication. Each one was in superb voice, and as the recording sessions were spread over nine days, there was every opportunity to expand their musical relationships. It also had the Philharmonia, sufficiently early in its life to describe it as young and vibrant, Wolfgang Sawallisch being already recognised as one of Germany’s finest conductors. By modern standards the orchestral recording is on the dry side, but voices are beautifully captured, and this new transfer I prefer to previous ones.

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