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Choosing the most tasty sweets of 'Hansel und Gretel'

Just as Humperdinck's "Hansel und Gretel" has never been away from musical stages for long, so good recordings of this charming favorite are never wanting. Right now, though only three performances grace the stereo catalogs, they are all appealing.

CBS has gathered an ideal cast for "Hansel und Gretel" (M2 35898 -- 2 records). All take it very seriously, particularly Elisabeth Soderstrom, who brilliantly singsm the role of the Witch where most others cackle, groan, and declaim it. Ileana Cotrubas and Frederica von Stade are the brother and sister, Christa Ludwig the Mother, and Siegmund Nimsgern the Father.

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It is the sort of careful, interesting casting all operatic recordings should be allotted, right down to the small roles of the Sandman and Dew Fairy, sung here by Kiri Te Kanawa and Ruth Welting, respectively. Sir John Pritchard highlights the beauty of the score, though perhaps at the expense of clean attacks and crispness in the dramatic moments.

It is, as with all other performances on record, sung in German.

Sir Georg Solti has a good deal of fun with his performance of the opera (London OSA-12112 -- 2 records). His siblings are Brigitte Fassbander and the enchanting Lucia Popp. The Witch is portrayed by Anny Schlemm in the traditional croak-shriek-yell style. Walter Berry's Father is particularly jovial. Hearing the Vienna Philharmonic in this music is a particular treat, and Solti relaxes enough to let the beauty shine through.

The Vienna Philharmonic is also featured on a Seraphim reissue (SIB-6124 -- 2 records) of a charming performance under the authoritative direction of Andre Cluytens. Irmgard Seefried and Anneliese Rothenberger are the respective siblings, with a younger Walter Berry as the Father and Grace Hoffman as the Mother. Elisabeth Hongen is the wobbly Witch.

It is too bad that Seraphim has not chosen to reissue the older mono set with Herbert von Karajan heading the Philharmonia Orchestra. He gives a richly symphonic account of the score, and his cast boasts Elisabeth Grummer and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf in the title roles. The rest of the cast is able, but the aforementioned ingredients are all the set needs to recommend itself strongly. It can be found in stores dealing with imported records on European EMI.

"Hansel und Gretel" will be broadcast live from the Met (in English) Dec. 31 on the Texaco Metropolitan Opera Radio Network (check local listings).

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