On record – Dario Salvi conducts Humperdinck: Music for the Stage (Naxos)

a Andrea Chudak (soprano); b Ruxandra Voda van der Plas (contralto); c Harrie van der Plas (tenor); d Robert Bennesh (organ); Malmö Opera Chorus and Orchestra / Dario Salvi

Die Heirat wider Willen (1905) – Prelude to Act Two
Der Kaufmann von Venedig (1905) – Incidental Music (abce)
Das Wunder (1912) – Suite (arr. Lotter) (d)
Die Wallfahrt nach Kevlaar (1878) (acd)
Lysistrata (1908) – Incidental Music (e)

Naxos 8.574177 [73’27”] German texts can be found here: http://www.naxos.com/libretti/574177.htm

Producer / Engineer Sean Lewis

Recorded 13-17 August 2019 at Bengt Hall-salen, Malmö, Sweden

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Naxos continues its exploration into late-Romantic byways with this selection of theatre and choral works by Engelbert Humperdinck, presented so as to confirm a composer whose music more than makes up for what it might lack in overall individuality with expressive generosity.

What’s the music like?

The recent appearance of William Melton’s biography (Toccata Press) was of great value in conveying Humperdinck as a figure both selfless and humane; and a composer whose output reflects these qualities so that a personable and appealing musical idiom is always to the fore.

The selection gets underway with the Prelude to the second act of The Forced Marriage, after Alexandre Dumas, and the most likely among Humperdinck’s ‘forgotten’ operas to be worthy of revival. At least, the glowering intensity of this music set in the Bastille suggests as much.

Humperdinck contributed music to several productions by Max Reinhardt, with that for The Merchant of Venice running the gamut from very brief vocal or instrumental cues to such as a lilting Sarabande and a Procession of Masks which exude an engaging verve. The Casket Song draws a winsome response from female soloists and chorus, while the most extended item is an orchestral commentary on the text In such a night whose (not unduly) Wagnerian overtones and gently emergent rapture ought to secure more regular hearings in its own right.

Despite a lavish ‘multi-media’ premiere at Covent Garden, the sanctimonious scenario of the film The Miracle sealed its fate. Adolf Lotter’s suite deserves better – the evocative Prelude for organ leading into the lively Procession and Children’s Dance, then a festive ‘Banquet Scene’ finds contrast with the chaste Dance of the Nuns. A whimsical March of the Army is itself juxtaposed with the plangent Death Motif, before the Christmas Scene bestows a typically glowing atmosphere which the Finale to Act One builds to an eloquent apotheosis.

Much the earliest work, the cantata after Heine’s ballad The Pilgrimage to Kevlaar established Humperdinck’s reputation and is still occasionally revived – though not in the original version recorded here. If those swirling textures of the first section remind one that Humperdinck was soon to prove an invaluable amanuensis for Wagner, the central section renders the brunt of the narrative with considerable fervency, before the final section tempers the ostensibly tragic turn of events with a forceful reaffirmation of belief prior to its warmly consoling conclusion.

Finally, to incidental music for Aristophanes’ Lysistrata – comprising a perky Entr’acte for brass and woodwind, a vaunting Festal Procession that juxtaposes then combines male and female voices, then a Closing Song that elaborates its woodwind melodies to piquant effect.

Does it all work?

Yes, bearing in mind that Humperdinck never sought to impress his personality on the task at hand. Within its self-imposed limits, the theatre music is always suited to what is portrayed on stage, with the Heine setting among the most persuasive instances of a much-maligned genre.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. The various vocal and choral contributions have all the requisite limpidity and poise, while the Malmö Opera forces acquit themselves with verve and elegance under the capable guidance of Dario Salvi – whose efforts in raising the profile of this music compels respect.

Listen & Buy

You can get more information on the disc at the Capriccio website, or purchase from Naxos Direct. Meanwhile for more information on the recent Toccata Press book on Humperdinck, you can head to their website

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