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Ludwig van Beethoven: Fidelio
28 Jun 2012

Ludwig van Beethoven: Fidelio

Based on performances given in Summer 2010 at the Lucerne Festival, this recording of Beethoven’s Fidelio is an admirable recording that captures the vitality of the work as conducted by Claudio Abbado.

Ludwig van Beethoven: Fidelio

Christof Fischesser, Falk Struckmann, Christoph Strehl, Jonas Kaufmann, Rachel Harnisch, Nina Stemme, Peter Mattei, Arnold Schoenberg Choir, Lucerne Festival Orchestra, Claudio Abbado, conductor.

Decca 001570502 [2CDs]

$35.99  Click to buy

The principals are solid in bringing their roles to life, with fine support by the Arnold Schoenberg Choir and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra. The recording itself is engineered with good balances and sonics sufficiently clear to allow the details to be heard distinctly.

Nina Stemme performs the dual role of Fidelio/Leonore with nuance, as found in the opening scenes. Her tone is somewhat understated, an interpretive choice in this performance, and this allows Stemme to bring out the details of rhythm, figurations, and phrasing. Her part in the quartet “Mir ist so wunderbar” is remarkable, with a sensitive interpretation guiding the performance. Stemme’s approach to the aria “Abscheulicher” is somewhat understated in the first part of the piece. Yet she offers a moving sense of Leonore’s resolved as she brings this piece to its conclusion. In the second act, Stemme is convincing in the rescue scene, especially in the duet with Jonas Kaufmann as Leonore’s imprisoned husband Florestan.

Kaufmann’s Florestan is outstanding, with the pitch, tone, and delivery creating a powerful image of the wrongfully imprisoned husband. His opening line “Gott, welch Dunkel hier” conveys the sense of pathos the audience must feel at the sight of the doomed man. This is not a heart-on-the-sleeve performance, but a full-bodied, soulful Florestan, whose case is argued as strongly in the phrasing of the music. It is a role that Kaufmann makes his own, with a command of line and tone that make it seem as if Beethoven composed the role for him. The range is easily within the grasp of Florestan in this effortless and impassioned performance.

In the other roles, the cast is equally strong. Rachel Harnisch is an attractive Marzelline, and her sense of style in the first-act aria “O wär ich schon mit dir vereint” is compelling. As Jaquino, Christoph Stehl is similarly ardent and stylistically convincing. His sense of character emerges readily in this performance, as does the Rocco of Christof Fischesser. The sometimes humorously treated aria “Hat man nicht auch Gold beineben” has a good sense of earnestness.

In the role of the villainous Don Pizarro Falk Struckmann is vocally impressive, with his resonant bass articulating the menace of his character. The evenness and clarity of his delivery is a model, and brings to this performance the dramatic balance it requires. In a similar way, Peter Mattei’s Don Fernando benefits from a powerful delivery of the part, as the character resolves the malice Pizzaro wrought on the prisoners and their families. The intensity he brings to the part is echoed well by Stemme and supported by the fine direction Abbado brings to this score.

The recording benefits from the sensitive support of the Arnold Schoenberg Chorus. The men of the ensemble give a vivid sense of longing for freedom in “O welche Luft” in the first act. The tension they convey in yearning for freedom is as palpable as the joy the full chorus exudes in the second act with its well-conceived dynamics. The sometimes static concluding scene of the second act receives a nuanced reading in this recording. The choral blend is effective, as the voicing of the sonorities comes across as richly as orchestral colors. This is truly a festival-quality Fidelio when the chorus is as well sung as in this recording.

At the same time, the orchestral playing on this recording merits attention for the excitement it contributes to the performance. With the solid string core, the entire ensemble has a focus that is sometimes difficult to hear in some houses. The horns have a sense of style that fits well into the orchestral fabric, as do the expressive woodwinds.

The entire package is nicely produced, with the die-cut folder neatly holding both discs, along with the full libretto. The latter reproduced the full text in German, plus English and French translations. Along with Thomas May’s program notes form the Lucerne Festival, the booklet is illustrated with photos from the performances, and also some well-selected art. Goya’s Third of May 1808 is a nice touch in its depiction of an execution —here avoided through the heroism of Leonore and re-created well under Abbado’s masterful direction.

With the various DVDs that exist for Abbado’s Lucerne performances, it is unfortunate that a video of this Fidelio has not yet been released. Yet the unseen direction by Abbado, the impassioned singing of Kaufmann, and the detailed execution of Stemme are nonetheless present in this memorable recording from Lucerne.

James Zychowicz

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