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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Lohengrin (1850)
Lorenz Fehenberger (tenor) Lohengrin; Annelies Kupper (soprano) Elsa von Brabant; Otto von Rohr (bass) König Heinrich der Vogler; Ferdinand Franz (baritone) Friedrich von Telramund; Helena Braun (soprano) Ortrud; Hans Braun (baritone) Herald; Franz Weiss, Karl Kreile, Heinz-Maria Lins, Maximilian Eibl, Four Noblemen of Brabant; Margot Grebner, Isolde Combach, Dagmar Naaff, Therese Oertel, Squires;
Chorus and Symphony Orchestra of Bavarian Radio/Eugen Jochum.
Rec. Himmelfahrtskirche, Munich, on December 15th-22nd, 1952. ADD
Originally issued on DGG 18084/88.
PREISER 90603 [3 CDs: 57.38 + 69’58 + 73’22]

 



Many is the critic who has bewailed the existence of a truly recommendable recorded Lohengrin and this in spite of the efforts of Kempe and Kubelík. First of all let it be stated that Jochum does not act as a Knight in Shining Armour in this respect, for there are shortcomings to this 1952 account. Yet what he does provide is a moving experience, drawing out the prophetic passages that speak of mature Wagner while manoeuvring us expertly through those that ... aren’t.

The Act 1 Prelude demonstrates the excellence of his orchestra, the Bavarian Radio Symphony. This is glowing, heart-felt Wagner, exquisitely-shaped, at times positively Parsifallic. This Prelude exudes a great sense of breadth, of reverence, reaching far forward in this respect, implying the Holy revelations of the very end of the score. Further, lines are magnificently delineated. In terms of sheer control, there are few greater tests of orchestra and conductor than this, and Jochum and his players emerge magnificent; the climactic brass truly awe-inspiring. For further evidence of his ear, try the unaccompanied vocal ensemble towards the end of Act 1 (track 8 on disc 1 here), an ensemble that for once is not a meeting of vocal wobbles.

The Herald is Hans Braun – and the greatest compliment I can give him is that he does actually sound like one. But it is Otto von Rohr that impresses as King Heinrich, his entry huge, the tone that of a real bass. It is important to note carefully here Jochum’s handling of the accompaniment, for he is here, as throughout the set, ever alive to the dramatic action in the orchestra. He never rushes his singer, so that Franz’s superb diction registers.

Note how Jochum expertly prepares the entrance of his Elsa, Annelies Kupper. The magnificent chorus (Bavarian Radio also) is completely at Jochum’s beck and call, always well-balanced at whatever dynamic level is demanded. Kupper’s ‘Einsam in trüben Tagen’ reveals a pure soprano who has power up top yet still retains her tone at forte and above. This Elsa seems genuinely swept away by the second part of her solo (‘In Lichter Waffen Scheine’). Her prayer seems genuinely heart-felt – no wonder a swan appears as if by magic. Right from Lohengrin’s words of gratitude towards the creature, one can appreciate Fehenberger’s appealing voice. This is a soft-grained farewell; Fehenberger becomes suddenly stronger when he greets the King (track 7, 2’57). Fehenberger had the ability to project Wagner’s long legato lines well, an invaluable asset for any Lohengrin.

Act 2 takes us to distinctly darker realms. At night, Telramund and Ortrud plot dark deeds of revenge. And how Jochum sets up this uneasy nocturnal atmosphere. The two characters here are well cast. Telramund (the great Ferdinand Franz) is focused, set against Helena Braun’s threatening Ortrud; she sounds like a higher-pitched Erda, if you can imagine! In fact, Braun can be ultra-imposing; try her ‘Was macht dich in so wilder Klage doch vergeh’n?’ (CD 2 track 1). Her pitching is spot-on. Jochum maintains the dark hues perfectly throughout this scene and as an added bonus, when Ortrud and Telramund sing together in octaves at ‘Der Rache Werk’, we actually hear octaves! Later in the act, when Ortruds as a species tend to want to shriek and wail, Braun just manages to avoid this. A pity that Franz seems somewhat strained at the top of his range in his interruption (track 11). Jochum maintains the dramatic tension throughout this act.

Elsa’s entrance from the Kemenate (women’s quarters), CD 2 track 2, is even purer after the foregoing shenanigans.

The most famous passages from this opera occur in Act 3, of course. The Prelude is stock-full of energy, accents well-placed and there is just the right amount of give-and-take. The chorus, too, is exemplary in ‘Treulich geführt’. A shame, then, that Lohengrin’s ‘Das süsse Lied verhallt’ is not 100% in tune. It is Kupper’s Elsa that really lifts the ensuing duet although there is the distinct feeling that Fehenberger is raising his game, heading towards his ‘big’ end. Kupper sounds like a truly innocent, vulnerable bride.

Jochum paces this act superbly, as one single line heading towards the climactic final revelations. At various points, I questioned Fehenberger’s Heldentenor status and indeed his final moments are marked by a more lyric impulse.

‘Im fernem Land’ is rapt, Jochum providing a positive halo of strings and flutes around his Lohengrin. Fehenberger floats the important word ‘Taube’ (‘Dove’) but at a thin half-voice, and his high note on ‘Krone’ does not ring out sufficiently. More, the all-important revelation of his name simply does not appear as the imposing moment it really is. ‘Mein lieber Schwann’ does bear the weight of an unbearable sadness, though ... so why the half-hearted way with his final couplet?

So it appears the perfect Lohengrin still eludes us. Nevertheless all admirers of this opera should hear this, without a doubt.

 Colin Clarke

 



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