V2693. JENNIE TOUREL – Tribute, incl. DAS LIED VON DER ERDE (in English) (Mahler), Jennie Tourel & Hans Heinz, Boston Symphony Orchestra w.Richard Burgin Cond., Live Performance, 4 Dec., 1943, w.Broadcast Commentary by Gene Hamilton; LIEDER EINES FAHRENDEN GESELLEN (Mahler), Jennie Tourel, Toronto Symphony: w.Süsskind Cond., Live Performance, 6 Nov., 1957 (World Premiere release); MAHLER LIEDER: Ich atmet’ einen linden Duft, Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen, Das irdische Leben, Um mitternacht, Jennie Tourel, NYPO Live Performance, w.Bernstein Cond. 7 Feb., 1960, Carnegie Hall, w.Broadcast Commentary; RECITAL: Ch’io mi scordi di te?, K 505 (Mozart); Oh! Quand je dors (Liszt), Jennie Tourel wGeorge Reeves (Pf.), c. 1955; BBC RECITAL, EDINBURGH FESTIVAL, 4 Sept., 1955: Tu lo sai (Torelli); O Mitridate (Scarlatti); La regata veneziana (Rossini); Over the Steppe (Gretchaninoff); After The Ball (Tschaikowsky), Jennie Tourel, w.George Reeves (Pf.), w.Broadcast Commentary by David Thompson; ASPEN MUSIC FESTIVAL: Salve Regina (Scarlatti), Jennie Tourel, Aspen Music Festival Orch w.Süsskind Cond., Live Performance, 1962; July-Aug., 1962, Aspen, Colorado; OFFENBACH ARIAS from Orphée aux Enfers - Couplet des Baisers; La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein - Dites-lui: Jennie Tourel, Columbia Symphony Orchestra w.Jean Morel Cond., Recorded 1952; LA GRANDE-DUCHESSE DE GÉROLSTEIN (Offenbach), Jennie Tourel, André Turp, Martial Singher, Louis Quilico, Stefan Schnabel & André Lortie, American Opera Society Ensemble, Carnegie Hall, w.Arnold Gamson Cond. Live Performance, 10 Nov., 1959. (Canada) 3-Immortal Performances IPCD 1153. Transfers & Essay by Richard Caniell; Program Notes by Ken Meltzer & Gerald Parker, w.34pp booklet. – 793888826533
“This is Immortal Performances’ second set devoted to the extraordinary mezzo-soprano Jennie Tourel. The first, IPCD 1048 [V2326] included the three mezzo songs from Mahler’s DAS LIED VON DER ERDE, in a quite remarkable early American performance by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1942. I say remarkable because the conductor was the BSO’s concertmaster Richard Burgin, who is certainly not a well-known podium figure, but who led a beautifully shaped performance. Burgin conducted quite a lot of Mahler during his years as the BSO’s assistant and later associate conductor, and he understood the composer’s sound world.
For those of us who really loved hearing Tourel’s glorious singing of that music, DAS LIED felt incomplete without the three songs for tenor. This set now gives us the entire performance. Hans Heinz, an accomplished Viennese tenor, has the vocal heft and interpretive insight to do a fine job. Because of America’s wartime emotions towards Germany, the performance was given in English, and both singers’ diction is quite clear.
What lifts this performance above the category of quite good into the level of truly special is Tourel. Her voice is rich and evenly produced from top to bottom, with virtually no break in the registers. Additionally, everything she sings shows concentration, dramatic intensity, and a total immersion in the composer’s vision. In the case of DAS LIED VON DER ERDE, these virtues are particularly impressive in the last song, ‘Der Abschied’, which is given with a wondrous sense of peace and acceptance, an inner calm that avoids emotional excess.
For me, there were four great mezzos performing Mahler’s music in the middle and second half of the 20th century: Janet Baker, Christa Ludwig, Maureen Forrester, and Jennie Tourel. The combination of a naturally beautiful voice, innate musicality, and a keen sense of the puts Tourel’s Mahler on that level. All four singers left memorable recordings, studio and live, of Mahler’s music, but Tourel somehow left fewer. It is very valuable to have the entire performance of DAS LIED VON DER ERDE now available and in quite good broadcast sound from 1943.
Unfortunately, Tourel was never given the opportunity to record Mahler’s SONGS OF A WAYFARER, so this concert performance from 1957 with a sensitive Walter Süsskind leading the Toronto Symphony Orchestra is invaluable. As producer Richard Caniell remarks in his recording notes, the broadcast sound is afflicted, with some kind of transmission noise, and the basic sound picture is somewhat compressed. But Tourel’s glorious singing, and Süsskind’s flexible conducting, make this a performance worth preserving.
Tourel was one of Leonard Bernstein’s favorite singers and they worked together frequently. In 1960 they performed selections from Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder and DES KNABEN WUNDERHORN in concert with the New York Philharmonic. These were recorded the next day for Columbia Records, and the recordings are considered classics. But the extra intensity that comes from live performances is present here in a way that was not quite duplicated in the studio. It is astonishing to recognize that Tourel was about four months shy of her 60th birthday here. The vocal control, purity of line, and evenness of tonal emission could hardly be bettered.
She and Bernstein explore the depths of feeling in ‘Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen’, with Tourel’s command of the subtlest of dynamic shading miraculous to behold. The hushed intensity that Bernstein elicits from the orchestra for the song’s concluding phrases makes you hold your breath waiting for the release of the ending. In his superb notes that accompany this set, FANFARE’s Ken Meltzer describes in detail the ways in which Tourel and Bernstein capture the chilling horror that is ‘Das irdische Leben’. The sound quality of the broadcast is the best of all the Mahler selections in the set.
After all this Mahler, the remainder of the contents brilliantly display Tourel’s versatility and comfort in a huge range of styles. First is Mozart’s concert aria, ‘Ch’io mi scordi di te’, with her frequent accompanist George Reeves. They give a performance that, while respecting the elegance and restraint one associates with Mozart, also feels impassioned. In the concluding section Tourel displays her fluid technique. Both the Mozart and the thrilling singing of Liszt’s ‘Oh! Quand je dors’ originate from a recital in 1955. The Liszt by itself would almost justify purchase of the set. Tourel’s control of color and dynamics, all the way up through the final sustained diminuendo on a beautifully held note, should be played to voice students as a model of marrying music to words for total communication.
Excerpts from an Edinburgh Festival recital recorded by the BBC in 1955 further demonstrate the singer’s versatility, with brilliant, idiomatic performances of music by Torelli, Scarlatti, Rossini, Gretchaninoff, and Tchaikovsky. It is all treasurable, but perhaps the most vivid demonstration of her skills is the group of three songs that comprise Rossini’s LA REGATTA VENEZIANA. I can name other singers whose repertoire encompassed Mahler and Rossini, but very few who made each sound as if she were a specialist in that composer. The lightness of touch and flexibility of technique (including an excellent trill) that she shows off in the Rossini are remarkable from a singer who also mastered DAS LIED VON DER ERDE.
In 1962 Tourel taught students at the Aspen Music Festival. What a lucky group they were! She was a couple of months past her 62nd birthday, but hearing the tonal beauty and flexibility of her singing in Domenico Scarlatti’s SALVE REGINA could lead you to doubt her age. This performance, in fine sound, has never been issued before, and it benefits from the sympathetic accompaniment by conductor Walter Süsskind.
The set concludes with music by Jacques Offenbach. We get two arias from ORPHÉE AUX ENFERS and LA GRANDE DUCHESSE DE GÉROLSTEIN, taken from a 1952 studio recording with Jean Morel conducting, and then a live performance of LA GRANDE DUCHESSE, truncated by cuts, from the American Opera Society in 1959, recorded live at Carnegie Hall in excellent monaural sound. The leadership of Arnold Gamson is a little bit square but not oppressively so, and the cast has a great deal of fun with the score. Tourel is simply magnificent in the title role. Her French diction is crisp, and she emphasizes the beauty of the music without short-changing the comedy. This recording is an important addition to the singer’s discography.
In sum, this set is a fine tribute to a very worthy artist. I have already commented on Ken Meltzer’s insightful essay, and in addition the booklet includes a detailed synopsis of the Offenbach operetta, wonderful photographs, and Richard Caniell’s helpful recording notes. Recommended with enthusiasm.”
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE, Nov. / Dec., 2021