Stefan Blunier / Beethoven Orchester Bonn

Eugen d'Albert: Der Golem

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Scots-born composer Eugen d'Albert established his career in Germany, considered himself a German composer, and his 21 operas (written in German) are saturated with the musical language of Germanic post-Romanticism. Der Golem (1926) came from late in his career, and while its Frankfurt premiere was considered a success, it has not held the stage. This MDG recording comes from a first-rate production at Theater Bonn in 2010. The opera is skillfully written, but the recording confirms the judgment of history: Der Golem is just not an especially compelling piece, either musically or dramatically. The Jewish legend of a 16th century Prague Rabbi who created and gave life to a sympathetic but ultimately dangerous creature foreshadows Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. It ought to be a dramatically charged opera; one can imagine what Prokofiev or Hindemith might have done with this story of spooky supernatural occurrences and the devastating consequences of a human creator's hubris, but d'Albert fails to deliver. The score has some moments of soaring lyricism, but they generally lack musical substance and don't stick in the memory. The vocal writing, too, is lyrical, but usually in a directionless way, so it is entirely pleasant but mostly forgettable. The composer's imagination does seem to become more engaged with the subject as the story moves along, so the three acts are progressively more appealing and deeply felt, and the heightened musical pay-off in the final scenes may satisfy some listeners. The Bonn forces, led by Stefan Blunier, give it their all and make as strong a case as possible for the opera. Beethoven Orchester Bonn plays with fervor and precision, and the vocal soloists are uniformly very fine. The sound of MDG's hybrid SACD is clean and natural, with a strong dramatic ambience.

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