Buy “Etienne Henry Mehul, Alfons Rischner, Jules Gressier, Wilhelm Schuchter, Chor des NWDR, Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra, Alexander Welitsch, Alfred Pfeifle, Arnold van Mill, Bernhard Michaelis, Erna Berger, Friederike Sailer, Gunter Generesch, Gustav Grefe, Hans Braun, Helene Werth, Horst Gunter, Josef Traxel, Libero de Luca, Rolf Kunz, Ursula Zollenkopf, Walter Wagner – Joseph in Aegypten – Music” Online

Joseph in Aegypten

This recording actually contains 2 performances of the opera Joseph in Egypt by the French composer Etienne Mehul. Both performances omit the spoken parts of the opera and concentrate on the overture plus the sung parts. The first performance was recoreded in Hamburg in 1955 and features the Yugoslavian bass Alexander Welitsch as Jacob, the Swiss tenor Libero de Luca as Joseph, and as Joseph’s brothers Horst Gunther, Ursula Zollenkopf, Rolf Kunz, and Gunter Genersch. Although the original score called for all male soloists, Ms. Zollenkopf stars as Joseph’s younger brother Benjamin and does a very fine job of it, providing a wonderful female counter to the male soloists. The Symphony Orchestra and Chorus of the NWDR are under the direction of Wilhelm Schuchter. The opera is sung in German. When I purchased this recording, I wasn’t certain if either the sound quality would be good or if I would like the music. I was delightfully surprised by both. The quality of the recording is excellent – the orchestra and all soloists come through clearly and dynamically without any distortion whatsoever. And the music is absolutely fantastic. I’ve found myself listening to this recording over and over and I’ve yet to tire of it. It is easy to understand why Mehul was so well liked during his time in France, in Germany, and in a number of other countries and just as hard to fathom why he is almost forgotten today. Many of his operas enjoyed immense success in their day (late 1700’s to about 1815 when his productivity decreased because of tuberculosis) and were translated into numerous different languages. As far as Joseph in Egypt, Beethoven, Wagner and Mahler all conducted it and had immense respect for the imagination and creativity of the composer. There are several solo parts for Joseph, Jacob, and Benjamin (sung by Ms. Zollenkopf)and they are all delightful melodies. I am most engaged by the short romances for Joseph and Benjamin – sweet, emotional and very direct – and the absolutely lovely terzetto for Benjamin, Joseph and Jakob which intermingles the parts of the three soloists in a manner in which many composers attempt but few are this successful. There are also a number of absolutely lovely choruses – not the booming choruses of a Verdi but quieter and more reflective types that are appropriate to the contemplative prayers issued by the captive Israelites. The chorus Gott Israels (O God of Israel) in which Joseph (de Luca) also has a part is particularly captivating. The chorus near the end Lobt den Herrn mit Sang und Saitenklang is very reminiscent of one of the choruses in Beethoven’s Ruins of Athens, but Joseph was written in 1806 and the Beethoven in 1811. The choruses are all accompanied by very complex but subtle instrumentation that assists the choir with theme and mood but never overshadows it. In short, this performance of Joseph has fast become my favorite opera. The second performance was recorded in Stuttgart, also in 1955. It also features Alexander Welitsch as Jacob. Josef Traxel is Joseph and again a woman (Frederike Sailor) is featured as Joseph’s younger brother Benjamin. This performance is also sug in German and also omits the spoken parts of the opera as well as several sung parts that the first (Hamburg) performance included. Again the sound quality and performance are excellent, but to my tastes the soloists (Except for Mr. Welitsch) are not quite as good as the Hamburg performance and some of my favorite parts are missing from the second performance. Also included on this 2 CD set are some selections from Massenet’s Werther and Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci which I have listened to but honestly did not pay much attention to. I give this 2 CD set a 4. 9 star rating. I would give it 5 stars except I think the inclusion of the Massenet and the Leoncavallo provide some distraction from the real subject matter. I would have been absolutely delighted to have just the 1955 Hamburg performance on one CD. This opera and its performances are absolutely enjoyable. The music is neither light or heavy and just captivates me from beginning to end. This is a truly beautiful work by an almost forgotten master. Surely Mehul, a man of very humble origins, deserves a better fate! Check it out!

 

 

 

Joseph in Aegypten Review

 

Many opera-lovers will be familiar with this opera through one aria only, in the original French: “Champs paternels”. There is a lovely acoustic recording by John McCormack and a great many tenors since – Simoneau, Tauber, Carreras and Alagna – have included it in their recitals. It prompted me to look for a complete recording and the only thing available seems to be this Gala issue – actually of two recordings, both in German from 1955 with two fairly celebrated tenors and casts of good quality, despite the absence of household names. The opera capitalised upon a taste for more overtly religious, quasi-oratorio subjects as a reaction to the godless ways of the Terror in France – though Méhul himself was a loyal establishment man who wrote music aggrandising the régime – and also the craze for Egytiana, following Napoleon’s Egyptian Campaigns. It is full of melody and by no means dry; think of an amalgam of Gluck, Cherubini and a dash of Mozart. The music is frequently pacy and dramatic, with some really driven ensembles that generate real tension. The first performance from Hamburg seems more or less complete and stars celebrated Swiss tenor Libero de Luca; the second has chunks missing from the first two acts (I have no idea why) and a particularly grievous omission is that famous aria, as I would like to have heard the second tenor, Josef Traxel, sing it, as I actually prefer his voice to de Luca’s good both though are. (Traxel was an exceptionally versatile singer who could sing everything from Bach to Wagner, lyric to heroic. ) I also prefer conductor Alexander Duval’s more sprightly direction in the second Stuttgart performance to the more ponderous approach of the better known Wilhelm Schüchter in Hamburg. The same competent but slightly woolly bass takes the role of Jacob in both and we hear in the two performances and the subsequent bonus excerpts several of those silvery, bright, almost child-voiced German sopranos once so common: Friederike Sailer is especially pure and sweet, as is the much more famous Erna Berger, still sounding fresh and girlish at 55, in excerpts with de Luca from “Der Bajazzo” (“I Pagliacci” to you and me). Those bonuses are the usual generous helpings from Gala; the mono sound is clean and the packaging as irritating as ever; hasten to repackage the two discs in a slimline case and save shelf space. I really enjoyed the “Werther” tracks; it is such sumptuous, sensuous music even in the under-nourished sound provided. A really interesting, offbeat and valuable issue, given the lack of alternative versions. -Read Reviews-

This is a masterpiece of opera by an all but forgotten genius. Do youreself a favour and listen to this great opera with themes and motifs that obviosly inluenced those who followed Mehul. I’ve probably listened to this ten times since it arrived a coulpe of weeks ago.

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