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Richard WAGNER (1813 – 1883)
Lohengrin, Act 3, Scenes 1 and 2
Lohengrin – John Horton Murray (Tenor)
Elsa – Margaret Jane Wray (Soprano)
Siegfried, Act 1, Scene 3
Siegfried – John Horton Murray (Tenor)
Mime – Adam Klein (Tenor)
Bolshoi Opera Chorus
Russian State Symphony Orchestra/John McGlinn
Recorded in Studio No.5, Moscow Film Studios, 28th May – 1st June 2001
NAXOS 8.555788 [59.17]

This enjoyable disc is a considerable curiosity. It is obviously intended as a showcase disc for the German based American tenor, John Horton Murray. Murray is currently making a name for himself in Strauss roles, having been received with critical acclaim in the UK for his Menelaus in ‘Die Frau ohne Schatten’ and Bacchus. In 2003/2004 he will be singing Lohengrin along with the Kaiser in ‘Die Frau Ohne Schatten’, Bacchus and Florestan. The other singers are also American; the talented young Margaret Jane Wray and the veteran Adam Klein. Wray is also a promising singer, singing jugend-dramatisch soprano roles. In 2003/2004 she will be singing Sieglinde, Chrysothemis, the Prima Donna and Freya.

The programme consists of Scenes 1 and 2 from Act Three of ‘Lohengrin’ coupled uneasily with Scene 3 from Act One of ‘Siegfried’. Recorded in Moscow, the disc uses Russian forces conducted by another American, John McGlinn who is best know in this country for his scholarly work on and recordings of American musicals, pioneering performances in their original scorings.

Regarding the programming, it does seem odd that no further excerpts from ‘Lohengrin’ were recorded. Surely we could have heard more of Murray’s Lohengrin. Given his fine performance in the two scenes here, it is particularly galling that we have neither his farewell, ‘Mein lieber Schwann’, nor his entry (both items traditionally excerpted in recitals). Additionally, it would have been nice to hear more of Wray, perhaps in Elsa’s dream. There seems to be no reason on earth to couple the Marriage scenes from ‘Lohengrin’ with the Forging scene from ‘Siegfried’. But all we can do is listen and see if they are well done.

The same is true of conductor, John McGlinn. Reputations are strange things, and because he is best known in the UK for his work on musicals, there is no reason in the world for him not to have a wider profile in other countries. But still, it is surprising too come across someone that you are used to conducting Kern and Gershwin conducting Wagner.

Both Wray and Murray have the jugend-dramatisch voices which are ideal for ‘Lohengrin’. Able to cope with Wagner’s demands but able to still bring to the roles an admirably ardency and youthful sheen. Both sing with a fine sense of line, bringing much sense of legato to bear. These are shapely performances; the singers do not simply stand and bawl. But, I did wonder whether at the time of recording (2001) Murray had actually sung the role in the opera house. There is a lack of vividness in his attitude to the words and this is rather shared by Wray. This is compounded by a feeling that the emotions are rather generalised, not related in a detailed way to Wagner’s words and music.

McGlinn starts off with an impulsive and propulsive account of the Introduction. The orchestra respond well to his speeds but the strings are a little untidy in the busier passages. Judging by these two scenes, McGlinn’s ‘Lohengrin’ is fully responsive to the origins of piece in Italian opera. But his care does not seem to extend beyond an individual number; the sense of Wagner’s over-arching structures are rather lacking. But I am judging on the basis of 35 minutes of music.

After the ‘Lohengrin’ excerpts we must regrettably say goodbye to Wray’s admirably firm and gleaming soprano. I do hope that I hear her again soon, before she gets too tempted into singing the hoch-dramatisch roles too early.

This sense of doing hoch-dramatisch roles too early is one that occurs again when listening to the scene from ‘Siegfried’. For most of the scene, Murray is fully equal to the role, but towards the end I became aware that he had no power reserves to draw on for the final forging. Murray does make a believably youthful Siegfried. Once a tenor has developed the reserves of power and stamina that enable him to perform the whole of this terrific role, he has often lost the ability to sound genuinely youthful. But I would hope that Murray is not tempted to try a full ‘Siegfried’ for some time yet.

As Mime, Klein makes a good foil to Murray. More responsive to Wagner’s words he seems to draw a more verbally aware performance from Murray. John McGlinn and the orchestra provide fine support. But, as with ‘Lohengrin’, I felt that performance moved from fine moment to fine moment with the sense of the scene’s overall construction lacking.

This is an enjoyable disk and makes a reasonable showcase for the talents of John Horton Murray, but a more coherent programme could perhaps have made it something special.

Robert Hugill

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