V2621. KIRSTEN FLAGSTAD - 125th Birthday Tribute: Beethoven - Missa Solemnis (First three movements) w.Flagstad, Jagel, Meisle and Pinza, 1937, w. Goossens Cond. Cincinnati Festival Chorus & S.O; Beethoven - 'Ah, Perfido': two performances. Songs and Lieder: Schubert, Wagner, Grieg, Kvandal, Dorumsgaard & Kielland. Arias from Wagnerian operas. Flagstad Farewell speech after Dido and Aeneas (1953). (Canada) 3-Immortal Performances IPCD 1119 (3 discs for the price of 2) Program Notes by Dewey Faulkner; Transfers & Recording Notes by Richard Caniell w.34pp. booklet. - 644216110421
“A new Immortal Performance set (three discs, priced as two) offers a tribute to the Norwegian soprano Kirsten Flagstad (1895-1962). There have been many great singers, but a few stand out for the unique beauty, power, and technical brilliance in the most demanding repertoire. For want of a better term they were ‘forces of nature’, and for me they include such artists as Rosa Ponselle, Francesco Tamagno, Lauritz Melchior, and Titta Ruffo. Flagstad most assuredly belongs in this select company. Like Ponselle, Flagstad possessed a soprano voice of stunning beauty, amplitude, and richness throughout the registers. During her storied Met career, which lasted from 1935-1952, Flagstad sang the music of Wagner almost exclusively. Among her 250 Met performances in the house and on tour, only 14 of Beethoven’s FIDELIO, and 5 of Gluck’s ALCESTE, were of non-Wagnerian repertoire. I doubt there were many Met attendees who complained. Flagstad was the greatest Wagnerian soprano of the 20th century, perhaps of all time. And her frequent partner happened to be the greatest of all heldentenors, Lauritz Melchior. The new IP set has plenty of Wagner, to be sure. But the numerous featured recordings (many billed as ‘world premiere releases’) document that Flagstad was a far more diverse artist than her Met career might indicate. Further, the glory of Flagstad’s voice remained right to the close of her operatic stage career, and beyond.
The set opens with a 1937 Cincinnati May Music Festival broadcast of Beethoven’s MISSA SOLEMNIS, conducted by Eugene Goossens. Although the Cincinnati Symphony has long been a first-rate and important American orchestra (their early music directors included Leopold Stokowski, Eugène Ysaÿe, Fritz Reiner, and Goossens), the ensemble’s work during the first half of the 20th century is woefully underrepresented on recordings. It’s welcome, then, to have this broadcast, featuring the opening three movements of Beethoven’s choral masterpiece. All the performers acquit themselves admirably, in a performance in the grand style. The solo quartet comprises Flagstad, Kathryn Meisle, Frederick Jagel, and Ezio Pinza. What a thrill it is to hear Flagstad’s voice soaring above the large orchestral and choral forces! Those thrills continue in two performances of Beethoven’s concert aria, ‘Ah! Perfido’. First is the 1937 RCA recording with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Next is a 1948 broadcast performance with Clemens Krauss and the Havana Philharmonic. Neither the passage of time nor the vicissitudes of live performance engender the slightest diminution in Flagstad’s vocal and interpretive mastery. The two remaining discs showcase Flagstad in live performances, spanning the years 1937-1953. The repertoire includes song and opera, the familiar and less so, both German, and from her native land. Again, the consistency of her vocal security and beauty is astounding. For example, in a June 12, 1953 Bergen Festival concert Flagstad, just a month shy of her 58th birthday, soars through the repertoire, including Wagner’s TRISTAN Liebestod and the Immolation Scene from GÖTTERDÄMMERUNG, with the radiance of a singer in her absolute prime. Flagstad could have easily enjoyed a triumphant career by coasting along solely on the power and beauty of her unique voice. But Flagstad was a scrupulous and probing musician. And so her song and opera interpretations are marked by elegant phrasing, a wide range of dynamics and colors, and a constant attention to the text. The featured repertoire, by its nature, leans toward the grand and more sober. But in such moments as Schubert’s ‘Der Musensohn’, Flagstad demonstrates the ability to adjust her approach to communicate a lighter, even carefree affect. There is not a single excerpt in the well over 3 hours of music included here that even remotely suggests the subpar. The sound quality of the excerpts ranges from acceptable to excellent. But in each case, Richard Caniell and IP have taken great pains to assure the music is presented in correct pitch, and with the glories of Flagstad’s voice shining through. The final disc concludes with Flagstad’s farewell London operatic performance as Dido in Purcell’s DIDO AND AENEAS. After a masterful rendition of ‘When I am laid in Earth’, Flagstad addresses the audience with the dignity, sense of propriety, and humanity that distinguished her performances. It is a lovely, and most fitting conclusion to a marvelous set.
The accompanying booklet includes an extensive and thoughtful appreciation of Flagstad’s life and career, as well as the featured music, by Dewey Faulkner, along with Richard Caniell’s ‘Recording Notes’ and artist bios. Immortal Performances continues to shine as a concern devoted to preserving the depth and range of artistry of the greatest musicians of the past. Thanks to them; and brava, Madame Flagstad.”
- Ken Meltzer, FANFARE, Nov. / Dec., 2019