Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

Henry Purcell, Royal Welcome Songs for King Charles II Vol. III: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers

The Sixteen continues its exploration of Henry Purcell’s Welcome Songs for Charles II. As with Robert King’s pioneering Purcell series begun over thirty years ago for Hyperion, Harry Christophers is recording two Welcome Songs per disc.

Anima Rara: Ermonela Jaho

In February this year, Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho made a highly lauded debut recital at Wigmore Hall - a concert which both celebrated Opera Rara’s 50th anniversary and honoured the career of the Italian soprano Rosina Storchio (1872-1945), the star of verismo who created the title roles in Leoncavallo’s La bohème and Zazà, Mascagni’s Lodoletta and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

Requiem pour les temps futurs: An AI requiem for a post-modern society

Collapsology. Or, perhaps we should use the French word ‘Collapsologie’ because this is a transdisciplinary idea pretty much advocated by a series of French theorists - and apparently, mostly French theorists. It in essence focuses on the imminent collapse of modern society and all its layers - a series of escalating crises on a global scale: environmental, economic, geopolitical, governmental; the list is extensive.

Ádám Fischer’s 1991 MahlerFest Kassel ‘Resurrection’ issued for the first time

Amongst an avalanche of new Mahler recordings appearing at the moment (Das Lied von der Erde seems to be the most favoured, with three) this 1991 Mahler Second from the 2nd Kassel MahlerFest is one of the more interesting releases.

Max Lorenz: Tristan und Isolde, Hamburg 1949

If there is one myth, it seems believed by some people today, that probably needs shattering it is that post-war recordings or performances of Wagner operas were always of exceptional quality. This 1949 Hamburg Tristan und Isolde is one of those recordings - though quite who is to blame for its many problems takes quite some unearthing.

Women's Voices: a sung celebration of six eloquent and confident voices

The voices of six women composers are celebrated by baritone Jeremy Huw Williams and soprano Yunah Lee on this characteristically ambitious and valuable release by Lontano Records Ltd (Lorelt).

Rosa mystica: Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir

As Paul Spicer, conductor of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir, observes, the worship of the Blessed Virgin Mary is as ‘old as Christianity itself’, and programmes devoted to settings of texts which venerate the Virgin Mary are commonplace.

The Prison: Ethel Smyth

Ethel Smyth’s last large-scale work, written in 1930 by the then 72-year-old composer who was increasingly afflicted and depressed by her worsening deafness, was The Prison – a ‘symphony’ for soprano and bass-baritone soloists, chorus and orchestra.

Songs by Sir Hamilton Harty: Kathryn Rudge and Christopher Glynn

‘Hamilton Harty is Irish to the core, but he is not a musical nationalist.’

After Silence: VOCES8

‘After silence, that which comes closest to expressing the inexpressible is music.’ Aldous Huxley’s words have inspired VOCES8’s new disc, After Silence, a ‘double album in four chapters’ which marks the ensemble’s 15th anniversary.

Beethoven's Songs and Folksongs: Bostridge and Pappano

A song-cycle is a narrative, a journey, not necessarily literal or linear, but one which carries performer and listener through time and across an emotional terrain. Through complement and contrast, poetry and music crystallise diverse sentiments and somehow cohere variability into an aesthetic unity.

Flax and Fire: a terrific debut recital-disc from tenor Stuart Jackson

One of the nicest things about being lucky enough to enjoy opera, music and theatre, week in week out, in London’s fringe theatres, music conservatoires, and international concert halls and opera houses, is the opportunity to encounter striking performances by young talented musicians and then watch with pleasure as they fulfil those sparks of promise.

Carlisle Floyd's Prince of Players: a world premiere recording

“It’s forbidden, and where’s the art in that?”

John F. Larchet's Complete Songs and Airs: in conversation with Niall Kinsella

Dublin-born John F. Larchet (1884-1967) might well be described as the father of post-Independence Irish music, given the immense influenced that he had upon Irish musical life during the first half of the 20th century - as a composer, musician, administrator and teacher.

Haddon Hall: 'Sullivan sans Gilbert' does not disappoint thanks to the BBC Concert Orchestra and John Andrews

The English Civil War is raging. The daughter of a Puritan aristocrat has fallen in love with the son of a Royalist supporter of the House of Stuart. Will love triumph over political expediency and religious dogma?

Beethoven’s Choral Symphony and Choral Fantasy from Harmonia Mundi

Beethoven Symphony no 9 (the Choral Symphony) in D minor, Op. 125, and the Choral Fantasy in C minor, Op. 80 with soloist Kristian Bezuidenhout, Pablo Heras-Casado conducting the Freiburger Barockorchester, new from Harmonia Mundi.

Taking Risks with Barbara Hannigan

A Louise Brooks look-a-like, in bobbed black wig and floor-sweeping leather trench-coat, cheeks purple-rouged and eyes shadowed in black, Barbara Hannigan issues taut gestures which elicit fire-cracker punch from the Mahler Chamber Orchestra.

Alfredo Piatti: The Operatic Fantasies (Vol.2) - in conversation with Adrian Bradbury

‘Signor Piatti in a fantasia on themes from Beatrice di Tenda had also his triumph. Difficulties, declared to be insuperable, were vanquished by him with consummate skill and precision. He certainly is amazing, his tone magnificent, and his style excellent. His resources appear to be inexhaustible; and altogether for variety, it is the greatest specimen of violoncello playing that has been heard in this country.’

Those Blue Remembered Hills: Roderick Williams sings Gurney and Howells

Baritone Roderick Williams seems to have been a pretty constant ‘companion’, on my laptop screen and through my stereo speakers, during the past few ‘lock-down’ months.

Bruno Ganz and Kirill Gerstein almost rescue Strauss’s Enoch Arden

Melodramas can be a difficult genre for composers. Before Richard Strauss’s Enoch Arden the concept of the melodrama was its compact size – Weber’s Wolf’s Glen scene in Der Freischütz, Georg Benda’s Ariadne auf Naxos and Medea or even Leonore’s grave scene in Beethoven’s Fidelio.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

09 Jun 2005

A Portrait of Ernst Gruber

Up to now Ernst Gruber was only a name to me. During the fifties and sixties his career was centered in the houses of the defunct German Democratic Republic; first Dresden and Leipzig and later on at the Deutsche Staatsoper in East-Berlin. Usually he rated one or two entries each year in Opera Magazine; mostly just barely mentioning his name as even in those times reviewers concentrated almost exclusively on the antics of director Felsenstein and some of his copycats. So I thought of him as one of those somewhat to be avoided German tenors like Hans Günther Nocker who, while acting their heads off, sang in that barking way that got them epitaphs like “intelligent, thought-provoking” while words like “beauty of tone” were anathema to them and the critics. Mostly they remained behind the Iron Curtain, unless at the last moment they had to run to the rescue in Western Europe or the US when Windgassen or Thomas fell unexpectedly ill. They were always happy to comply as they mostly got 20% of the fee, immediately handing over the remaining 80% to the Stasi officer accompanying and controlling them, who would always remind them of the fate of their families who had to stay home as hostages.

A Portrait of Ernst Gruber.
Arias and scenes from Der Freischütz; Il Trovatore; Otello; Sly; Dalibor; Tiefland; Rienzi; Tannhäuser; Lohengrin; Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg; Die Walküre; second act of Tannhäuser.
With Maria Croonen, Sonja Schöner, Wilhelm Klemn, Robert Lauhöfer, Rainer Lüdecke, Theo Adam, Elisabeth rose, Kurt Rehm, Dora Zschille,Christa-Maria Ziese, Brünnhild Friedland, Rudolf Jedlicka, Martin Ritzmann.
(radio recordings 1955 - 1965)
Ponto PO-1033 [3CDs]

Up to now Ernst Gruber was only a name to me. During the fifties and sixties his career was centered in the houses of the defunct German Democratic Republic; first Dresden and Leipzig and later on at the Deutsche Staatsoper in East-Berlin. Usually he rated one or two entries each year in Opera Magazine; mostly just barely mentioning his name as even in those times reviewers concentrated almost exclusively on the antics of director Felsenstein and some of his copycats. So I thought of him as one of those somewhat to be avoided German tenors like Hans Günther Nocker who, while acting their heads off, sang in that barking way that got them epitaphs like "intelligent, thought-provoking" while words like "beauty of tone" were anathema to them and the critics. Mostly they remained behind the Iron Curtain, unless at the last moment they had to run to the rescue in Western Europe or the US when Windgassen or Thomas fell unexpectedly ill. They were always happy to comply as they mostly got 20% of the fee, immediately handing over the remaining 80% to the Stasi officer accompanying and controlling them, who would always remind them of the fate of their families who had to stay home as hostages.

Well, I was wrong in more than one way. Ernst Gruber was an authentic Viennese who made his début aged 29 in Graz in 1947, never gave up his nationality and his Viennese dialect. He lived in Berlin (where there was no wall till 1961) and could easily cross the frontier. So he from time to time he popped up in the West as with his 1967 performance as Tristan in Philadelphia; now even available on CD (Ponto PO 1026). He died in 1979 of the complications of routine surgery.

And I was wrong on the quality of the voice too. It is a big voice as can be clearly heard from the several ensembles on these recordings. The amazing thing is the ringing free top which has no problems at all with high C in "Lodern zum Himmel (= Di quella pira)". The color is somewhat dark, not very refined, a lot of metal though no sweetness or real beauty in it. He belongs, too, to the old German school where each word has to be understood so that from time to time beauty of tone surrenders to spitting out the right consonants. He reminds me of his contemporary, Ernst Kozub, who made a bigger career. Still, and I know readers must by now be dead tired of this cliché, he would have made quite a career nowadays. Even in those tenorricher times, it is strange he didn't make more of an impression. I looked up his name in my Chronik der Wiener Staatsoper and to my surprise he never sang in the main house in his city of birth while far lesser tenors as Janko, Lustig, Pöltzer, Söderström were employed in the roles of his repertory.

The recordings, all in good sound as they are derived from radio sources, give us a full idea of the voice's evolution between 1955 and 1965 and it is a fascinating one. In the earlier recordings like Trovatore the voice is very forward, sometimes sounding a little throaty with very open sounds which sometimes grate a bit. Gradually the voice becomes rounder, more beautiful until in the middle register it sometimes has an uncanny resemblance to the Vickers sound in the same repertoire with the difference that Gruber's high notes above the staff are much stronger and fuller. As can be expected, he is at his best in his German roles, especially where a lot of declamatory music is in attendance like d'Albert's Tiefland. Kollo, Schock and Hoppe in their official recordings cannot compete with his big incisive sound. In more lyrical roles like Lohengrin and Walther he is less successful though he succeeds in singing some fine pianissimos but the lack of pure beauty in those well known arias is a handicap.

One of the joys of this recording consists in finely having a testimony of other female singers like Elisabeth Rose or Maria Croonen; they too only names up to now. Not that they are singers of genius but both are honest pleasure giving artists though Rose is a shade too lightweight in Tannhäuser on the third disc. We get the whole second act and I fail to see why this is included as Tannhäuser's role is somewhat limited and Rudolf Jedlicka's Wolfram is not so unforgettable as to be preserved for eternity. A two-disc set would have given us a fully satisfying portrait of the tenor and would have been cheaper.

Jan Neckers

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):