Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Len Mullenger:

Der Fliegende Holländera - Overture; Johohoe! Traft ihr das Schiff; Steuermann, lass die Wacht. Lohengrinb - Act 1, Prelude; Einsam in trüben Tagen; Bridal Chorus; In fernem Land. Tannhäuserc - Overture; Dich, teure Halle; Beglückt darf nun dich, o Heimat. Die Meistersinger von Nürnbergd - Act 1, Prelude; Was duftet doch der Flieder; Priza Song. Parsifale - Act 1, Prelude; Good Friday Music; Du siehst, das ist nicht so. Tristan und Isoldef - Act 1, Prelude; Act 3, Prelude; Mild und Leise.
aGwyneth Jones (soprano) Senta; Kurt Moll (bass) bHeinrich der Vogler, eGurnemanz; bSiegfried Jerusalem (tenor) Lohengrin; Cheryl Studer (soprano) bElsa, cElisabeth; dDietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone) Sachs; Placido Domingo (tenor) dWalther, eParsifal; fBirgit Nilsson (soprano) Isolde;
afBayreuth Festival Chorus and Orchestra/Karl Böhm; bVienna State Opera Chorus and Philharmonic Orchestra/Claudio Abbado; cChorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden/Giuseppe Sinopoli; dChorus and Orchestra of the Deutscher Oper, Berlin/Eugen Jochum; eMetropolitan Opera Orchestra/James Levine. Recorded 1966-94.
DG Panorama 469 226-2 [adfADD/DDD]. [135'17]

As sets of bleeding chunks go, this one comes pretty high in the rankings. None of these excepts from the mature (or nearly mature), non-Ring music dramas will seriously disappoint, and some will positively stimulate.

Karl Böhm's star fully deserves to shine high in the Wagnerian firmament, and he duly both opens and closes this selection. His blazing Dutchman Overture, despite showing its age in terms of recording quality, blazes with excitement. The Bayreuth Festival Orchestra play for all they're worth (and that's a lot). Gwyneth Jones' Johoe! Traft ihr das Schiff im Meere an is a gripping and imposing account, whilst the Bayreuth Festival Chorus are on top form for Steuermann, lass die Wacht. Excerpts from Böhm's 1966 Bayreuth Tristan (for many, including this critic, an experience unlikely to be surpassed) close the set. The Preludes to Acts 1 and 3 are tautly presented, and Birgit Nilsson's Verklärung (Mild und Leise) is truly imposing. Anyone who does not own the complete set, should.

Claudio Abbado is less renowned for his journeys into Wagnerian realms, and the excerpts form Lohengrin show why. Despite a pure Einsam in trüben Tagen from Cheryl Studer and a tender Prelude to Act 1 (jut sit back and luxuriate in the Vienna Philharmonic string sound!), Im fernen Land lacks the mystical pregnancy it so needs, with Siegfried Jerusalem on less than top form. Try Jess Thomas's 1962 Bayreuth account with Sawallisch if you want to really get inside this music (Philips 446 337-2). Jerusalem just rushes through the pivotal revelation of Mein Vater, Parzifal, trägt seine Kröne, and the fade shortly thereafter seems cruel.

Talking of Parsifal (Wagner uses the more difficult to sing spelling of Parzifal for its one appearance in Lohengrin, by the way), three excerpts from Levine's ponderous account with the Metropolitan Orchestra represent this most spiritual of works. Effective excerpts are remarkably difficult to find (with the exception of Kundry's Ich sah das Kind, inexplicably omitted from this set), and the lion's share here goes to the Prelude to Act 1 (which comes in at over 15 minutes). Levine only just keeps hold of the tension, but it's a close run thing. Perhaps, given that this is not really Domingo's territory (he is cast as Parsifal, and also sounds out of place in the Prize Song from Jochum's Meistersinger), that's a good thing.

As in the case of Lohengrin, the end of Jochum's Overture to Act 1 of Die Meistersinger also suffers from a disappearing into the distance fade (rather than keep the dramatic stroke of genius of moving into the first chorus entry). Understandable enough (it would, after all, be impossible to append the concert ending), but frustrating nonetheless. Still, one can still enjoy Fischer-Dieskau's Sachs, whose Fliedermonolog exemplifies all of that singer's best qualities of sound, line and diction.

Sinopoli's recording of the Paris version of Tannhäuser remains on the tepid side, despite a firm Dich, teure Halle from Studer and a rock-solid Covent Garden Chorus in the Pilgrim's Chorus.

A mixed bag, then. Excerpts from Wagner are always problematical, given the composer's insistence on the whole and complex interrelations, leitmotivic and otherwise, within that whole. Use the most impressive snippets as an excuse to go out and buy the complete sets.


Colin Clarke

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