Compared to Rudolf Kempe's atmospheric Vienna EMI Lohengrin, Erich Leinsdorf's Boston version, in spite of expert orchestral playing (the first-desk soloists truly stand out) seems inert and studio bound by comparison. Sandor Kónya delivers the title role with personality and authority, but the remainder of the cast lacks the ensemble momentum that distinguishes the aforementioned Kempe recording. Leinsdorf, by the way, restores several bars of music to Lohengrin's Narrative originally cut by the composer. --Jed Distler
First impression was terrible: the price. Normally such sums can kill an elephant but I asked the staff to let me listen to it.
(At that stage of my life, the name of Sandor Konya wasn't really ringing any bells in my head although I knew he sang FANCIULLA with Tebaldi at the Met.)
I asked for the 3rd disc to be played, started off with DAS SUSSES LIED duet, noticed that things were looking - pardon, sounding - very promising so soon moved on straight to IN FERNEM LAND - and that's where my jaw literally dropped.
Never before - or after - have I heard that story of Grail told / sung so beautifully. No other tenor has got the potential this Hungarian had in both his voice itself as such and in his interpretation of this role: depth, warmth, sheer beauty, colour, heft, masculinity, humanity, style, musicality, phrasing - you name it, and let it be whatever - but it's THERE. Windgassen, Domingo, King, Thomas, Schock - all great tenors and worthy competitors but it is Konya who IMO wears all the laurels. Just for him - even if only for him - this recording is worth listening to.
Another plus is BSO with their superb sound, conducted by Leinsdorf. Perhaps I wouldn't call Leinsdorf the supreme inspiration of my life but he is at least very good, I'd say.
Here however comes the trouble: of other principal roles none is cast as well as the title one: Amara's singing is perhaps just nice and pleasant but realistically - pleasant is not what we expect from Elsa!! - so, IMO Amara's portrayal of the role is pale and bland - and nothing else really, I'd expect more depth of sound, she almost sounds tired or short of breath, the voice is way too light and colourless, shame but she is no Elsa, no way...
Now, if Konya made my jaw drop, then Rita Gorr nearly made my eyes fall off their sockets..!! - I've no idea what was going on but she must have been going through some tortures in that finale, she certainly wasn't pleasant (as opposed to Amara), her screamings are quite wild, ear-tearing, out of tune (either slightly under or far above, what a swing..) and frankly - I find them in the worst possible taste. Traumatic experience, that is, listening to that. Cheese is highly recommended when listening to that, and in big quantities, make sure you stuff your ears well with it..!!
Conclusion: mixed feelings. But go on, you give it a go. Adore Konya in the title role, try to appreciate Amara's pleasant efforts and make an effort to pretend that you didn't hear Gorr's final scene (or you did but you enjoyed it.. which is rather unlikely).
Leontyne Price was reportedly the first choice for Elsa. It would have been an interesting opportunity to hear her in a German role. There are a few glimpses of her singing in Richard Strauss excerpts in good vocal estate and they pique my interest for what she would have done in this role. (The complete Strauss Ariadne came a few years too late to showcase her great vocal gifts.) Lucine Amara is adequate but not much more. She no Janowitz, Norman, or especially, Grummer.
The rest of the cast is significantly outclassed, especially by Fischer-Dieskau and Christa Ludwig in the rival EMI/Kempe effort. Rita Gorr, an artist I admire, handles much of the role of Ortrud pretty well, but the final scene's squalling is a trial to the ears.
The Boston Symphony is tonally opulent and brings out much of the beauty of the orchestration, an accomplishment shared by Maestro Leinsdorf. The conducting isn't, however, on a par with Kempe.
This is an interesting recording for fans of Konya and the curious. Yes, it is absolutely complete with Lohengrin's uncut grail narrative, but for a reference recording, look elsewhere. My recommendation is EMI/Kempe.
Unlike my other favorite Lohengrin (Fehenberger/ Jochum), this is absolutely complete (including the Appendix to the Grail Narrative!) in amazingly real sound. When you have that long procession to the cathedral or the preludes you want great sound, and this set delivers. The voices are free and project easily through the orchestra. I don't understand why people berate Leinsdorf so much. His performances do not have the hyper energy injected artificially into them by other conductors (Solti comes to mind), true, but they unfold naturally. What a joy to hear such balanced textures throughout. And the drama is still there. Multiple hearings of this set will make you enjoy it more with every hearing. (4 stars for Gorr act three and Amara's valiant but smallish Elsa.)