Humperdinck: Hänsel und Gretel - Janowski

Humperdinck: Hänsel und Gretel - Janowski

PentaTone Classics  PTC 5186 605

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Opera

Humperdinck: Hänsel und Gretel

Katrin Wundsam (Hansel, mezzo-soprano)
Alexandra Steiner (Gretel, soprano)
Ricarda Merbeth (Mother, soprano)
Albert Dohmen (Father, bass-baritone)
Christian Eisner (Gingerbread Witch, tenor)
Annika Gerhards (Little Sandman, soprano)
Alexandra Hutton (Little Dew Fairy, soprano)
Kinderchor der Staatsoper Unter den Linden
Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin
Marek Janowski (conductor)

Is it possible to administer at too early an age the intoxicating and gloriously sweet poison of opera, especially in an era of constant muzak? The clear answer is “No!”. In a splendidly moving new recording of Engelbert Humperdinck’s one-hit wonder Hansel and Gretel, Maestro Marek Janowski now introduces the perfect “gateway drug” to opera.

The fairy-tale opera Hansel and Gretel is a perfect choice as the first joint trip to the opera for parents and children to enjoy. The story of the two children who lose their way in the forest and are ensnared by the evil witch is well-known. The plot reflects the age-old conflict between good and evil, and has a happy ending. Add to this Humperdinck’s magical music: poetically childlike and powerfully dramatic at the same time. In the score, Humperdinck’s close connection to Richard Wagner is always discernible. The composition oscillates between childlike simplicity and adult monumentality.

To this day, Hansel and Gretel remains one of the most popular pieces in the German opera repertoire. One of the main reasons for this is certainly the seriousness with which Humperdinck approached the simple story. All emotions are truly felt: and this is obvious not only to a child, but also to any adult who has retained a childlike view of the world.

Who better than Marek Janowski here as conductor? Not only does he clearly feel completely at home in this late-Romantic German repertoire, he has also already given benchmark-setting interpretations of these works in both the major concert halls and the most important opera-houses. At the head of “his” Radio Symphony Orchestra Berlin – which he previously led for 14 years, raising it to an outstanding level of playing – he takes the listeners into the forest-bird sound-world of this fairy-tale opera, at all times accompanied by a well-coordinated ensemble of singers.

Manuel Brug wrote the following for Klassiker Welt-Blog: “Coming from the Wagner camp are Albert Dohmen (Peter) and Ricarda Merbeth (Gertrud) as the parents, who pulled out all vocal stops in a highly dramatic and parodic manner. Tenor Christian Elsner was terrific as the wicked witch. The lyrical ladies’ quartet (Katrin Wundsam as Hansel, Alexandra Steiner as Gretel, Annika Gerhards and Alexandra Hutton as the Sandman and, respectively, the Dew Fairy) sang in sweetly beautiful voice, in accordance with their roles.”

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DSD recording
Comments (2)

Comment by Waveform - September 5, 2017 (1 of 2)

Dear all,

At last "Hänsel und Gretel" that seems to be an ideal choice! Marek Janowski has brought out many enjoyable recordings with PENTATONE and I'm more than happy he decided to record this undervalued opera in its entirety. When it comes to release SACD I have found the following three parameters as mandatory requirements in order to offer as fine product as possible:

1) DSD recording: In the earliest days of Super Audio CD (SACD) the Direct Stream Digital (DSD) technology was without compromises the only reliable way to record audio to disc. I'm not an audio engineer so I can't describe this as detailed as I may wish for. But four years ago I heard my first multichannel SACD (Grieg: Sigurd Jorsalfar, Landkjenning - Ruud) as it was meant to be heard through surround sound system. I was immediately hooked to this new way to listen to classical music. Since my first listening experiences at the age of four I had listened to the standard CDs. Now DSD and SACD revealed totally new and breathtakingly better way to understand and hear my favourite music. The great amount of details, clarity and realism of sound and the sense of space was something I had never heard before. SACD brought the orchestra into my listening room and there wasn't barriers between me and the music.
For this reason DSD is the only acceptable way to record and release recordings. Unfortunately most music labels have decided to stay in PCM - and it is still possible in 2017 (!) - although for us it is dying and abandoned format. However, BIS Records and Chandos have done excellent job with their PCM recordings and I'm not speaking about that. I'm referring to the labels like Universal (Decca, Deutsche Grammophon, Philips), Naxos and Ondine that have released SACDs sometimes but have returned to CDs for empty reason. Of course it is a matter of demand and money and most of the recordings of these labels are still available in hi-res downloadable files online. But what about those people who still prefer a physical product in exchange for downloading, who wants to play about the pages of a booklet or feel the circular shape of a disc?

2) Super Jewel Box disc case: Now this might be irrelevant subject for someone but for me it matters. Compared to the standard jewel case it is slightly more difficult to replace the case if damaged. Naturally there are suppliers that offers Super Jewel Box disc cases but usually one has decided to cut an inlay card suitable for standard jewel case. For me Super Jewel Case means the same as SACD: I don't understand those who place a regular CD into them as it is pretty confusing. For the reason above BIS and Chandos, for example, have found it more comfortable to use standard disc cases for their SACD releases. But PENTATONE and Ondine have wanted to stay with Super Jewel Box unlike Channel that has packaged the SACD albums into digipak disc cases (rather unusual choice, I think!). Rounded corners have offered more logical grip of the case and they also look far more beautiful in the shelves, to be honest.

3) A generously filled disc: Whenever possible the all capacity of SACD should be used as carefully as possible. It isn't always possible but paying the full price of a single album the content of a disc should be worth of every penny. Who really wants to pay of empty space, of silence? The Ultra-Extended Playing Time SACDs of BIS Records are perfect (although rather radical) examples of this. For the price and space of one you will get more than 4 hours of wonderful music. But when one disc could contain 80 minutes of music it is not fair to use just 30 minutes or even less. Of course this depends on the repertoire and the requirements of artists, producers, composers and others behind a recording. But generally we should keep this on mind when planning or purchasing SACDs.

Comment by hiredfox - January 16, 2018 (2 of 2)

What an absolute delight. One of the most enjoyable discs to come my way in a very long time.

This recorded live performance from the Berlin Philharmonie is jam-packed full of fun and good humour even if it is of the 'black' variety. A wonderful cast of virtuoso singers lend it their all as 'though their lives depended upon it and the results are magical. The floor stamping in the Act 3 feels so real you turn around to see who has entered your listening room. The realism of the recording is simply astonishing , close your eyes and you are in the front row of The Philharmonie.

This children's opera is not over-long as you might expect (90 min) but the recording grabs your attention from the very first bar and never lessens its grip.

What, is that the end already? It is, it is that absorbing. A must buy in my opinion and surely an award winner in the making. Wonderful.