After their acclaimed recording of Weber’s Freischütz, the Dresdner Philharmonic and its Principal conductor Marek Janowski present yet another German opera classic with Beethoven’s Fidelio. They work together with a stellar cast — well-seasoned in German opera — including Lise Davidsen (Fidelio/Leonore), Christian Elsner (Florestan), Georg Zeppenfeld (Rocco), Christina Landshamer (Marzelline), Cornel Frey (Jaquino), Johannes Martin Kränzle (Don Pizzarro) and Günther Groissböck (Don Fernando).
This should have been a live concert recording, but Covid-19 frustrated those plans. Luckily, it turned out possible to record Beethoven’s masterpiece in two studio sessions, with two different, established choirs: the Sächsischer Staatsopernchor Dresden, as well as the MDR Leipzig Radio Choir. Katharina Wagner and Daniel Weber have adapted the original dialogues for this recording. Fidelio is the quintessential rescue opera, in which a wife goes to any lengths to free her beloved from the chains of a barbaric, oppressive regime. Beethoven’s opera on the power of love and the enlightening power of humanity still resonates with us today, and its music continues to delight and inspire.
Marek Janowski, the Dresdner Philharmonic and the MDR Leipzig Radio Choir have a vast Pentatone discography, including complete recordings of Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana and Puccini’s Il Tabarro (both released in 2020). Lise Davidsen starred in Weber’s Freischütz (2019), while Christian Elsner, Georg Zeppenfeld and Günther Groissböck contributed to Pentatone’s complete Wagner operas recording, amongst others. Christina Landshamer, Cornel Frey, Johannes Martin Kränzle and the Sächsischer Staatsopernchor Dresden make their Pentatone debut.
Christian Elsner – Tenor (Florestan)
Lise Davidsen – Soprano (Fidelio & Leonore)
Georg Zeppenfeld- Bass (Rocco)
Günther Groissböck – Bass-Baritone (Don Fernando)
Christina Landshamer – Soprano (Marzelline)
Johannes Martin Kränzle – Baritone (Don Pizzarro)
Sächsischer Staatsopernchor Dresden
MDR Leipzig Radio Choir
Marek Janowski, Conductor
TracklistPlease note that the below previews are loaded as 44.1 kHz / 16 bit.
Total time: 01:48:57
Christian Elsner, Christina Landshamer, Dresdner Philharmonie, Georg Zeppenfeld, Günther Groissböck, Johannes Martin Kränzle, Lise Davidsen, Marek Janowski, MDR Leipzig Radio Choir, Sachsischer Staatsopernchor Dresden
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Horus, Merging Technologies
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Jean-Marie Geijsen, Andreas Wolf, Anne Taegert & Rob Stralenberg
|July 16, 2021
The Classic Review
This new recording of Beethoven’s only opera was scheduled to be recorded live in the summer of 2020. Instead, it was produced under studio conditions (and special Covid protocols) in June and November 2020. The introductory note makes special mention of these circumstances, pronouncing this new album a “replacement miracle.”
The opening duet between Marzelline (soprano Christina Landshamer) and Jaquino (tenor Cornel Frey) is beautifully sung. Their gentle dispute convincingly portrayed, though Marzelline’s aria that follows (O wär ich schon, track 4) Landshamer’s tone occasionally becomes brash. Rachel Harnisch (Abbado) singing is just as beautiful, but she finds greater tenderness in her rendition.
The reading seems to find surer footing (and a notable rise in emotional temperature) with Lise Davidsen’s first appearance (track 6/Quartet). These days any new recording by Davidsen is a major draw, and, as hoped, her portrayal of Leonore is gorgeous, nuanced, and compelling. Davidsen ensures the listener fully knows and feels Leonore’s thoughts and emotions, with a fulsome and richly burnished tone that is passionate and intensely lyrical. Listen to how passionately she conveys Leonore’s belief in justice (track 10/Trio), or in the central recitative and aria of Act I (16), her furious disgust at Pizarro and deep love for Florestan. This is a deeply moving portrayal.
Johannes Martin Kränzle’s Don Pizzaro is an imposing characterization, his evil intentions always palpable. Tenor Christian Elsner is also impressive, fully capturing Florestan’s desperation in the opening of Act II. Janowski seems to find a deeper level of involvement beginning with “Er sterbe! Doch er soll” (CD 2, track 7). The moment where Leonore steps in front of Florestan, proclaiming her identity is thrilling, as is the love duet that follows (“O namenlose Freude!”). The MDR Leipzig Radio Choir is excellent – fabulous diction and impeccable intonation fused with full-throated dramatic singing.
Steffan Georgi’s notes are excellent, scholarly yet accessible, tracing the work’s complicated genesis and examining the music for the orchestra, chorus, and main characters in turn. The booklet also includes the full text and translations.
Pentatone’s recording, exceptionally clear and warm, strikes an ideal balance between the voices and orchestra, with the chorus far enough forward to be an active participant in the drama. The singing of Lise Davidsen is masterly, and will no doubt ensure this recording’s success.
Music Web International
Fidelio has been quite fortunate in the recording studios since the good old days. The most recent is this Pentatone set. Marek Janowski has the Philharmonie, of which he at present is chief conductor. He has an impressive list of opera recordings to his credit, crowned by the complete Ring from the early 1980s. Here, 40 years later, he is still vital, and alert and the drama unfolds briskly. He skips the Leonora Overture No 3, which Böhm and several others play as an interlude between the two scenes of Act II, to heighten the intensity and preserve the tension that has been built up in the first scene. From the conductor’s point of view this reading is certainly on a par with most of the competitors.
The singing is also in the topflight. The secondary love couple, Jaquino and Marzelline, are well in the picture. Cornel Frey is an expressive character tenor and Christina Landshamer is a fresh-voiced Marzelline who twitters beguilingly in her aria, notwithstanding some unsteadiness that is easily forgiven in view of her charm. Georg Zeppenfeld, today developing as one of the leading basses in the German repertoire, is lighter and more baritonal than many of his predecessors in the role of Rocco – just think of Gottlob Frick’s pitch-black chief-jailor in the Klemperer recording – but he is expressive and has secure low notes. In a way he seems more human – but so do Franz Crass in the Böhm recording and Kurt Moll in the Naxos.
The scoundrel in this company is of course Pizarro, and I have to say that Johannes Martin Kränzle, whom I have admired in both operatic roles as well as a lieder singer, is one of the nastiest of this breed. His entrance aria (Album 1, Track 7) is one of the most horrifying I’ve experienced. It’s formidable and surpasses even Theo Adam’s horrible version in the Böhm recording, not least for his cleaner delivery, compared to Adam’s more rusty and grainy singing.
Most readers are waiting for my reaction to the young Norwegian comet in the dramatic soprano department, Lise Davidsen. In her big scene (CD 1 tr. 9) she turns out to be powerful and dramatic but also sings beautifully with excellent legato in the lyrical moments, which are just as important in her aria. She has the power and intensity of both Flagstad and Nilsson without reminding much of either. The glorious final note is certainly spine-chilling.
In Act II we also meet Florestan, the tortured spouse of Leonore, and his opening aria is one of the most gripping moments in this opera. Christian Elsner, today in his mid-fifties, started as a lyrical tenor, and was a fine lieder singer. But some fifteen years ago he changed over to heroic roles and in this capacity he has also been successful. His Florestan is still primarily a lyrical character, and he is close to Ernst Haefliger, who sang the role for Fricsay to profound effect. He is nuanced, lyrical and sings In des Lebens … truly beautifully. He still has enough heft for the dramatic outbursts, and he expresses the poor prisoner’s pain very convincingly.
Near the end we also encounter the Prime Minister Don Fernando who, like a Deus ex machina, arrives at the last moment and saves the hero and the heroine. Günther Groissböck, another rising German bass-star, has the nobility and expressivity needed for the role.
It has also to be said that the choral forces are magnificent in the final scene, which becomes a jubilant homage to freedom. The excellent recording contributes a lot to the impact of the performance.
The spoken dialogue has been adapted by Katharina Wagner and Daniel Weber It is well delivered by the German-speaking cast. The only non-German member, Lise Davidsen, is utterly fluent and idiomatic but her speaking voice is curiously thinner and more girlish than her singing self.
This is Davidsen’s second complete opera recording for Pentatone and Janowski after her lovely Agathe in Weber’s Der Freischütz. Her Leonore in Beethoven’s only opera followed her live performances in April last year at Covent Garden.
What had been planned as a live recording in June became a fine studio version in which Davidsen’s lyrical, even girlish timbre and the insights gained from her live run pay dividends here. She is radiant in Act II’s sublime O Gott, Welch ein Augenblick and completely secure at the top, heading a fine cast including Georg Zeppenfeld (Rocco), Günther Groissböck (Fernando) and Kränzle (Pizarro), a character baritone who oozes malevolence.
Janowski is a swift, vital Beethovenian, and the Dresden Opera Chorus sings with breathtaking beauty in the Act I finale.
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