Hänsel und Gretel
Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin/Marek Janowski
Pentatone PTC5186605 (2CD)

The Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin under Marek Janowski is the star of this recording. From the overture, whose stateliness and gleaming lines remind listeners of the debt Humperdinck owes Wagner, to the gentle glow Janowski coaxes from the strings as the tired children bed down in the moss, this Hänsel und Gretel is one of the best orchestral accounts on the market. Listen to the sinuous give and take between orchestra and Gretel as she sings about the dwarf in his red, red cloak – as easy and instinctive as breathing.

More variable are the singers. As is the usual problem, those in the title roles can sound inappropriately mature, or overcompensate by trying to sound too much like a Knabensopran. Unfortunately, Alexandra Steiner as Gretel has exactly the kind of timbre a Hansel could use. She also runs into trouble in her upper register, dulling the girlish effect. Katrin Wundsam as Hansel fares better, her slightly hooded sound and judiciously deployed petulance making her a recognisably irritating sibling as well as a delight to listen to.

Mother and father are a pair of real Wagnerians, giving us a cheeringly strange glimpse of Fricka and Wotan having a domestic. Albert Dohmen has obvious fun describing the gruesome witch in the wood, while his many enthusiastic “ral-la-la”s made this listener laugh. But the crowning glory is tenor Christian Elsner as the witch, deliciously wicked.

Limelight, Australia's Classical Music and Arts Magazine