Paul Lincke (1866-1946)
Frau Luna
Maria Leyer, soprano – Frau Luna
René Kollo, tenor – Prince Sternschnuppe
Kathrin Smith, soprano – Stella
Karl Fäth, baritone – Theophil
Barbara Dommer, mezzo-soprano – Frau Pusebach
Anneli Pfeiffer, soprano – Marie
Cologne Male Choir
WDR Radio Orchestra, Cologne/Helmut Froschauer
rec. 2006, Klaus-von-Bismarck-Saal, WDR Funkhaus, Köln, Germany
cpo 777 285-2 [2 CDs: 110]

It is perhaps too easy to take for granted (and even to grumble fretfully about tardy release dates of some of their recordings) when considering the endeavours of the cpo label to investigate the byways of European and especially German music – their devotion to the cause of long-neglected or totally forgotten composers, and their continuing supply of well-performed and well-recorded CDs principally from well-rehearsed German radio sources. These investigations have not only brought to our attention many works otherwise unrepresented in the catalogues, but have also expanded our knowledge of other composers whose reputations have survived in the shape of single works known mainly to specialists. One such was Rezniček, where cpo disclosed whole mountain ranges of scores lying beyond the foothills of the ever-popular Donna Diana overture. Other expeditions into the field of light music have embraced popular musical theatrical works such as rare Johann Strauss and Sullivan’s The Rose of Persia (salvaged from an ephemeral BBC Music Magazine cover disc).

They have now begun to turn their attention to Paul Lincke, known if at all in English-speaking countries by the solitary “glow-worm” idyll from his operetta Penthesilea, and that only because Ronald Corp included it in one of his compendiums of light music for Hyperion some thirty years ago. Well, cpo are now in the process of surveying the remainder of Lincke’s once highly popular output, and here too they expand their field beyond the current activities of German radio orchestras, issuing a studio broadcast from Cologne Radio made some twenty years ago of his operetta Frau Luna.

Nothing is said in this booklet about the provenance of this recording beyond the description of it as one of “the Cologne broadcasts”, but it does not appear to have been the subject of previous release even in Germany. The cast is distinguished by the surprising appearance in the lead tenor role of René Kollo – although this is perhaps less surprising, when one considers not only that he did have a fairly substantial career as a popular singer in Germany before he moved into Wagnerian territory, and that throughout his life he would continue to dabble in lighter fare, recording Macheath in The Threepenny Opera and Danilo in The merry widow for major labels. By 2006, when this broadcast was made, his Wagnerian career had effectively come to an end; but he still had the voice and character to make an impression in a cast which otherwise consists largely of singers from various German provincial opera houses. What is perhaps more serious is the fact that there appears to have been some tinkering in places with Lincke’s original orchestration, beefing up the textures and adding militaristic rhythms which may well have derived from a later revision of the score in 1929 (the booklet is silent upon this matter). And the production, clearly designed with one eye on the popular end of the market, retains much of the dialogue – although how much of this is original it is impossible to say (and again the booklet does not enlighten us).

In the past it has often been the practice of critics to indulge in some “innocent merriment” at the expense of cpo’s booklet notes, which can sometimes take leave of reality with ventures into philosophical or musicological speculations of startling obscurity, even when the eccentricities of translation from German into English are taken into account. But then we should perhaps be more grateful that cpo provide such information at all, when some other companies fail to provide even the most basic background to scores which cry out for such treatment. And here we are indeed given some five columns of biographical detail by Franz Born, well translated into English, as well as four full pages of contemporary cartoons and photographs and a set of “Berlin couplets in Lincke’s time” whose relationship to the work in question are more obscure.

What is however missing is a decent synopsis of the complicated plot, which is summarised in a mere two paragraphs without even indications of how these match to the track listings. Well over half an hour of these discs is devoted to spoken dialogue (apparently delivered by the singers themselves) but in the absence of any details regarding what is being said these tracks are meaningless to non-German speakers. With these passages omitted, moreover, the musical content could have been fitted comfortably onto a single CD. What makes it worse is that the music which we have here includes intruded material from elsewhere, and very early on we are suddenly confronted (CD 1, track 3) with the well-known Glühwurm from Lysistrata, without any enlightenment from the brief synopsis as to how this might conceivably fit into the drama. Similarly in Act Two there is an intruded and purely orchestral Humoresk (complete with named bassoon soloist) whose relevance to the plot as outlined is totally obscure.

Now I very much hope that this is not the beginning of a new trend at cpo to provide minimal information with releases – in the past their operetta sets referred to in my opening paragraph invariably came furnished with complete texts and translations where required. The fact that the presentation of the CDs has been reduced from a double-box to a single gatefold sleeve should surely not be the sole governing factor here. I was able to locate a complete German-language score of the operetta on the extraordinarily valuable ISMLP site, but even this does not give the spoken dialogue and I was totally foiled in any attempt at greater enlightenment from elsewhere on the internet. The track listing in the booklet compounds difficulties because it attributes participation to the names of the artists and not the roles they are taking.

Under the circumstances I can do little more than observe that the singing – and speaking – cast is fine, seem to be involved in their lines, and acquit themselves with plenty of enthusiasm in the music even if with some approximate singing from some of the character voices. If I had not been told that René Kollo was involved in the roster of artists, I would not have guessed; there is no sense that there is here a major star of the operatic firmament indulging himself, no highlighting of his presence. The conducting and ensemble of what sounds like a pretty substantial orchestra has plenty of fizz when required, although – like Lehár – Lincke’s inspiration is by comparison with (say) Strauss a bit short-breathed. The overture, a simply assemblage of material to be heard later in the score, is one of the longest tracks on this pair of CDs, and the dialogue frequently extends for longer than the musical numbers that follow.

Those who enjoy the byways of German-language operetta, or speak German fluently, will revel in the performance that cpo here have so considerately rescued from obscurity. Other of us will wish that the rescue effort had been granted slightly more substantial textual support. But there are certainly no rival recordings of the complete score to provide a challenge.

Paul Corfield Godfrey

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Additional cast
Boris Leinsenheimer – Fritz Steppe
Wolfgang Völz – Lämmermeier
Ernst H Hilbich – Pannecke
Lotti Krekel – Mondgroom
Mechthild Georg – Mars
Therese B Nelles – Venus