Candide

0 of 5 stars

Bernstein
Candide

Candide – Jerry Hadley
Cunegonde – Sylvia Koke
Pangloss / Martin – Thomas Gazheli
Paquette – Robin Johannsen
Maximilian / Captain – Raimund Nolte
Governor / Vanderdendur / Ragotzky – Robert Chafin
Old Lady – Marjana Lipovsek
Bearkeeper / Inquisitor / Tsar Ivan – Stefan Sevenich
Cosmetic Merchant / Inquisitor / Prince Edward – Jörg Schörner
Doctor / King Stanislaus – Carsten Sabrowski
Junkman / Inquisitor / Herman Augustus / Croupier – Stefan Stoll
Alchemist / Grand Inquisitor / Sultan Achmet / Crook – Thomas Scheler

Narrator – Loriot

Ernst Senff Chor Berlin

Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin
David Stahl

Recorded live on 20 March 2005 in the Philharmonie, Berlin


Reviewed by: Timothy Ball

Reviewed: February 2006
CD No: CAPRICCIO 71 056
[2 CDs/SACDs]
Duration: 2 hours 8 minutes

The box and booklet covers are adorned not with a picture of the composer, nor a representation of Voltaire, but with a photograph of Loriot, who narrates this concert performance. I must confess to not having been unaware of Loriot – real name Vicco von Bülow (yes, of Wagnerian connection) – who is clearly a widely-regarded, multi-faceted artist, whose work embraces drawing cartoons, opera direction and radio broadcasts.

This Capriccio release is surely directed at the German-speaking market, since Loriot delivers his own narration in German – some of it quite lengthy – and his words are not translated in the booklet, though, paradoxically, the English lyrics are printed alongside a German translation. Fortunately, the narration is separately tracked, though the applause which greets each number is not; so the effect of experiencing this presentation as a totality is very much one of eavesdropping on a ‘live’ performance in every sense.

Within numbers, rather curiously, snatches of dialogue are given in German, such as Pangloss’s protestation that he is “too sick to die” (in the Auto-da-fé), the Governor’s “Quiet” admonition becomes “Ruhe”, and so forth. But there are undeniable musical pleasures to be had, not least from David Stahl’s perceptive and responsive conducting. Stahl was a one-time assistant to Bernstein, and he clearly has this idiom at his fingertips, and inspires his forces accordingly. One would imagine the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin plays this repertoire all the time, since the musicians sound completely at home both in the ‘Broadway’-tinged music and with the quintessentially quirky rhythms as well as Bernstein’s more reflective and restrained moments.

One is more accustomed to hearing the Berlin-based Ernst Senff Choir on disc in weighty choral works, but the singers’ contribution to “Candide” is excellent, with splendid diction, articulation and dynamics – all credit to Sigurd Brauns, the Chorus Master. As with the chorus, most of the solo cast are non-native English speakers, but, again, in general terms, this does not greatly matter, though one of two of the singers taking the smaller parts in the Auto-da-fé struggle somewhat to produce clear pronunciation in the fast tempo, during the course of which producing some rough tone. It is in this number that there is one notable problem of ensemble when, in the heat of the moment, the singers rush and some ‘off-beat’ orchestral chords are placed on the beat.

The cast, by and large, gives satisfying performances. Thomas Gazheli is perhaps a rather darked-toned Pangloss than we are used to, in the end sounding somewhat less amiable than, say, Adolph Green under the direction of the composer (on DG), or Sir Thomas Allen in a live performance with the New York Philharmonic under Marin Alsop, currently only available in the USA on DVD. Gazheli certainly conveys a degree of cynicism, and the bitterness of Martin’s song (where spoken passages are in English) is rightly disconcerting. Robert Chafin makes a small verbal slip in the Governor’s Serenade, but he has a strong top register, though Nicolai Gedda, under the composer’s direction, remains uniquely compelling in these tenor roles. Robin Johannsen’s pert soprano is attractive, and Raimund Nolte provides a preening Maximilian and authoritative Captain. Marjana Lipovsek is, perhaps, an unexpected candidate for the Old Lady – though no more so, arguably, than Bernstein’s choice of Christa Ludwig – but she conveys laconic humour in “I am easily assimilated” and spars effectively with Sylvia Koke in “We are women”, though Koke sounds uncomfortable with the oft-required top C-sharps. Elsewhere, Koke is a fine exponent of this taxing part – “Glitter and be gay” comes off well, and she makes a distinctive contribution to ensembles. Ultimately, though, it is Bernstein’s June Anderson who projects that peculiar combination of effervescence and vulnerability that lies at the heart of Bernstein’s score and his characterisation of the principals.

Jerry Hadley was also the composer’s choice for the eponymous hero for his performances and recording, in London, in 1989, just under a year before Bernstein’s death. I am a great admirer of Hadley’s work, but one is obliged to report that his voice no longer has the youthful quality evident in 1989 and which made him a well-nigh ideal exponent of the part. The voice now sounds somehow rawer, as if the projection were being forced. I’d like to think this was a result of the recording, rather than the effects of age. In any event, “Eldorado” lacks the limpid and elegiac quality it needs (not aided by a somewhat dogged, rather than flowing, tempo) and too forceful delivery mars “Nothing more than this”. Hadley still conveys character, however, and his quieter musings are touching in their expression.

One or two tempos apart (“Bon voyage” and “The Pilgrims’ Procession” sound rushed), David Stahl is consistently convincing, drawing the musical strands to a powerful conclusion in “Make our garden grow”, and I shall enjoy returning to the musical portions of this performance, perhaps regretting my German is not more thorough, since the members of the audience certainly sound as if they relished Loriot’s narration.

Ultimately, though, for the most satisfying traversal of “Candide”, one needs to hear the composer’s final thoughts for the ‘best of all possible’ realisations of this marvellous score.

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