Magazine article Gramophone

Obituaries: Four Fine Musicians Remembered-Two Singers, Two Conductors

Magazine article Gramophone

Obituaries: Four Fine Musicians Remembered-Two Singers, Two Conductors

Article excerpt

NICOLAI GEDDA

Tenor

Born July 11, 1925

Died January 8, 2017

The Swedish tenor Nicolai Gedda has died at his home in Switzerland at the age of 91. Versatile in range and style, he was admired equally on the operatic stage and the recital platform, in almost every kind of repertoire, and was a prolific recording artist. In short, he was the model of a modern singer.

In summing up his career it is difficult to know what to put first. In a period when native French tenors were thin on the ground, he was the number one international choice as Werther or as Don Jose in Carmen. For Russian operas, he was hardly less useful, as he spoke the language fluently, and was vocally ideal for Lensky in Eugene Onegin. Turn to Italian opera and his middleweight tenor had the range to be both a touching Nemorino in L'elisir d'amore and a convincing Gustavo in Un bailo in maschera, a role which he played strikingly with the theatrical persona of Sweden's historical Gustav III.

His facility in languages played a big part in his success. Born in Stockholm in 1925, he was brought up by a Swedish aunt and her husband, a Russian-born singer. When the family moved to Leipzig so that his stepfather could take up a job as a choirmaster, he became fluent in German, and his French, Italian and English were soon no less expert. It is clear from his performances that he was more than just accurate in pronunciation. The rhythm, the phrasing, the shades of meaning are idiomatic in each of the languages he sang.

Gedda made his operatic debut with the Swedish National Opera, coming to the notice of Walter Legge, EMI's fabled record producer, early on in Adam's Le postilion de Lonjumeau, top Ds and all. In a sign of the versatility to come, he made his La Scala debut with Don Ottavio in Mozart's Don Giovanni, his Covent Garden debut as the Duke of Mantua in Rigoletto, and his Metropolitan Opera debut as Gounod's Faust. His first recording was as Grigory in EMI's 1952 Boris Godunov with Boris Christoff, followed later the same year by Bach's B minor Mass, conducted by Karajan.

What a career this tenor for all seasons had. Looking back over his 374 performances at the Met, it is fascinating to see, alongside the many appearances in Faust and Eugene Onegin, less immediately obvious assignments such as La sonnambula, The Queen of Spades, The Bartered Bride and I vespri Siciliani, not to mention the premiere of Barber's Vanessa and Menotti's The Last Savage. At the age of 71 he was still singing at Covent Garden, playing the Patriarch of Assyria in Pfitzner's Palestrina, and his quirky cameo quite stole the show. Gedda brought such life to everything he sang, always probing words and music in depth to create a performance that was inimitably his own.

A host of recordings will perpetuate his art. There are the three operas with Callas, II turco in Italia, Madama Butterfly and Carmen-, another Carmen (Beecham the conductor), Faust and Werther, still one of the best, with De Los Angeles; Rostropovich's trailblazing recording of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk; Die lustige Wirwe with Schwarzkopf together with many other operettas; Giulini's Verdi Requiem and a pair of English-language oratorios, Elijah with Baker and Fischer-Dieskau and The Dream, of Gerontius conducted by Boult; and that is not to mention song recitals in every language and hue. Many of the classic recordings of the post-war era are on this list. And that, more often than not, is thanks to the artistry of Gedda himself.

STANISLAW SKROWACZEWSKI

Conductor and composer

Born October 3, 1923

Died February 21, 2017

Polish-born American conductor Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, who has died aged 93, was noted particularly for his performances of Bruckner's symphonies though was also an admired composer in his own right. Born in Lwow (then in Poland), he studied in Krakow and later, with Nadia Boulanger, in Paris. …

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