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Recordings

Leoš Janáček: Katja Kabanowa
07 Sep 2007

JANÁČEK: Katja Kabanowa

A series of historic recordings comes from Profil/Edition: Günter Hänssler, and from those a subset of Staatskapelle Dresden performances brings opera fans a remarkable document.

Leoš Janáček: Katja Kabanowa
Edition Staatskapelle Dresden, Vol. 16

Sieglinde Gossmann, Werner Faulhaber, Helmut Schindler, Helena Rott, Heinrich Pflanzel, Karl-Heinz Thomann, Erich Zimmermann, Elfriede Trötschel, Käte Höfgen Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden, Chor der Staatsoper Dresden, Ernst Richter (cond.)

Profil PH06040 [CD]

$27.99  Click to buy

In August 1949 a brief run of Leoš Janáček's opera Katja Kabanowa took place at the Dresden opera house, and the day after the first performance the artists went to the recordings studios of the radio station. As a result, we have this atmospheric, dramatic reading, en Deutsch. The Mackerras studio recording will remain the standard, but for lovers of this opera, this Profil set makes for a fascinating alternative.

To begin with the most pertinent demerit: the set has only a brief English synopsis, but no libretto. Clearly the producers consider this to be a recording for those already familiar with the opera. German-speakers, however, can find some compensation in brief spoken passages explaining the story. These are separately tracked for non-German speakers to skip.

Beyond that, the opera receives an urgent, yet beautiful performance, and in remarkably clear mono sound. There are no sound effects during the storm scene, but the singers all seem to be in a true dramatic environment, and not yet just frozen before the microphones. Ernst Richter and the Staatskapelle produce a detailed, sensitive reading with more than enough power in reserve for the climax.

The booklet note (in German and English) contains a quote from Janáček praising the German translation of Max Brod. Your reviewer does not have the ability to judge its success as translation, but as sung it comes across as tremendously sensitive to Janáček's musical idiom and sharply communicative of the drama.

Elfride Trötschel's Katja is sympathetic in her sadness, warm in the grip of her erotic awakening, and touching in the pathos of her fate. Helena Rott unleashes some scathing lines as Kabanicha in the concluding scene, while never cross the dangerous line into parody (a risk in this role). As Boris, Helmut Schindler manages to use a plain instrument with enough style to make the love duet a success.

Without the stage noises of an in-house recording, and yet with more dramatic fire than the typical studio recording can claim, this Katja Kabanowa should please all lovers of Janáček's opera.

Chris Mullins

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