Humperdinck: Fairy-Tale Music

Karl Anton Rickenbacher

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Humperdinck: Fairy-Tale Music Review

by Stephen Eddins

Engelbert Humperdinck's reputation is so closely tied to Hänsel und Gretel that it's easy to forget he had a long and productive career and considerable popular success writing other things. His output was not limited to fairy tale subjects but they were prominent among his works. This disc brings together excerpts from four of them, the operas Hänsel und Gretel, Königskinder (which he considered his crowning achievement and which had a triumphant premiere at the Metropolitan Opera), and Dornröschen, and incidental music for Maeterlinck's Der blaue Vogel. All of the pieces highlight Humperdinck's gift for using the grandly dramatic language of Wagner in the service of material derived from children's literature, as well as his extraordinary ear for orchestration. This is music of heft and substance, but it is handled with a light touch reminiscent of Mendelssohn. The three excerpts from Königskinder are especially attractive, and show Wagner's influence even more explicitly than Hänsel. They share a musical and spiritual kinship with Die Meistersinger and make an appealing concert suite that deserves to have more currency. Also especially lovely is the atmospheric and supple Prelude to Dornröschen, which opens with a nod to Mendelssohn's Overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream. The Bamberger Symphoniker, led by Karl Anton Rickenbacher, plays with great energy and a warm, robust tone, and except for an occasional intonation issue, delivers satisfying performances. Virgin Classics' sound is full and nicely present. This is an album that should be of interest to fans of late Romantic orchestral music who are on the lookout for little known gems.

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