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Richard WAGNER (1813 – 1883)
The Flying Dutchman Overture (1843)
Rienzi Overture (1842)
Lohengrin Act III Prelude (1850)
The Mastersingers Overture (1862)
Siegfried Idyll (1870)
Götterdämmerung: Siegfried’s Rhine Journey (1876)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Lorin Maazel
No recording information given with the disc. DDD
RCA RED SEAL 82876 594142 [70’24"]


RCA Red Seal has been for many years BMG’s prime label, with all releases being at full price. This new series of re-issues at budget price rather throws some dealers so if you are looking for this disc in a shop beware. And you really should be looking for it; it is a superb disc in every way.

Lorin Maazel has been conducting opera and excerpts like this for many, many years. He is, in addition, an absolute magician in this kind of repertoire. Put in charge of an orchestra of the calibre of the Berlin Philharmonic, and recorded in very high quality digital sound as on this disc, the experience is first rate.

Wagner was in the habit of creating relatively large passages purely for orchestra within the operas to develop and strengthen the symphonic underpinning of his operatic plots. Lorin Maazel, in addition to recording these pieces before, has also arranged Wagner’s Ring cycle in orchestral guise, and this has been available (again with the Berlin Philharmonic) on Telarc.

The present disc opens with a very exciting and lively account of The Flying Dutchman which has the storm scenes thrashing around in very vivid form. This is one of the more exciting performances of the overture I have heard.

We then move on to the earliest work on the disc, the overture to the opera Rienzi. This receives an absolutely stunning performance well up to the standard of the other works on this disc. The Prelude to Act III of Lohengrin, long a favourite encore for visiting orchestras, makes its impact in no uncertain terms.

The Mastersingers Overture is the only relatively less exciting piece in this collection, being pompous rather than stirring in tone. This is a well experienced thing though with many conductors treating the overture this way. The only criticism I have of it is that in the company of the other works the effect is relatively muted.

Siegfried Idyll makes its usual impact, being beautifully played by the Berlin Philharmonic, with the textures glowing in Wagner’s present to his wife on her birthday in 1870.

The final piece on this well-filled anthology is Siegfried’s Rhine Journey from Götterdämmerung. This, the final instalment of The Ring opens the third Act of the opera with an orchestral interlude, Siegfried’s Rhine Journey. In musical terms it portrays Siegfried beginning his journey along the Rhine with Brünnhilde watching and hearing his horn-call after he disappears from sight.

The Berlin Philharmonic must have played these chunks of Wagner so many times in the past, that they will have this music in their veins. I haven’t enjoyed a recital like this as much since the days of Karajan, and here I would say that the controlled elegance, sometimes out of character, is replaced by an animal excitement to which I cannot believe any true music lover can fail to respond.

John Phillips

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