Those who like Der Rosenkavalier languid and sugary will have a feast with this CD transfer of Bernstein's 1971 Vienna performance. John Culshaw's account, reprinted in the booklet, of the series of accidents and mishaps which beset the recording schedule makes alarming reading and I can't help feeling that they affected the result. Gwyneth Jones was ill over one weekend and she is far from her best as Octavian, the tone thin and fragile at times. Placido Domingo was singing Cavaradossi at the Vienna Opera and was unhappy about fitting in with Culshaw's requirements to sing the Italian Tenor's aria—and his is certainly not the sensational performance it should have been.
Bernstein is not well served by another article in which we are told, approvingly, that he departed from the score because of his "extraordinary knowledge of Hofmannsthal's text". The writer says that the "best example" is in the second "Heut'oder Morgen" of the Marschallin in Act I "where Bernstein creates the musical climax with a crescendo that is not indicated in the score". Oh Isn't it?—it is in my copy. Then, he adjusts the balance in the Act 1 Trio for the Marschallin, Octavian and Ochs, where "lousy composing by Strauss" is apparently held to blame for the inaudibility in some performances of the Marschallin's "und wir, Herr Gott! Wir leiden den Schaden".
There could, of course, be a case for blaming lousy; conducting and singing. The score is explicit.
Anyway, there is no disputing that Bernstein and the Vienna Philharmonic established a good relationship in this music. The orchestra are the outstanding feature of the recording, the players providing all the lusciousness the conductor required and also giving him an exceptionally lively and rhythmically precise response in the quicker passages.
The obvious comparison is with Solti's 1969 Vienna set on Decca, as hard-driven as Bernstein's is relaxed. Several singers of subsidiary roles are common to both, Murray Dickie's excellent Valzacchi, for example, and Emmy Loose's Duenna, in better voice for Solti. On the whole Iprefer Solti, though neither performance would be my first choice (on CD it would be the Dresden performance with Hans Vonk on Denon. Karajan's latest Vienna/DG set is disappointingly bland though many would put his EMI recording—the most recent CD transfer—at the head of the list). Bernstein's has the advantage, very considerable, of Christa Ludwig's dignified and gloriously sung Marschallin. On the other hand, Manfred Jungwirth is a better Ochs than the soft-grained Walter Berry. Not much to choose between Lucia Popp and Helen Donath as Sophie, the former projecting a stronger character, the latter sounding more secure in her floated high notes. The recording throughout shows all Culshaw's famed attention to detail and concern for clarity. M.K.