It is not uncommon for those newly exploring the world of classical
music to find that they get on splendidly with orchestral excerpts from
Wagner’s operas but have some difficulty with the operas as a whole. I
recommend this disc to them as the next step. The lack of texts in the
booklet is, in the first place, less of a disadvantage than you might
think since it compels you to listen to the voice as music and
this is possible because the sound of Dohmen’s voice is so inherently
musical. This is really a splendidly firm and strong bass-baritone,
vibrant and resonant but without any trace of wobbly vibrato. You can
enjoy it for its own sake almost as an extension of the orchestra. Every
note is sung, the words are joined together by legato and
the music is properly phrased. In short, this is model Wagner singing
such as we used to hear from the likes of Hans Hotter, but which has all
too often been substituted by a sort of rough barking. And I would point
out that, if you are dipping your toe into this repertoire, in every piece
hear you will hear, in a new context, music you already know from the
familiar orchestral extracts. You may even find yourself checking out
if Dohmen is singing any Wagner within travelling distance in the near
Sicily may seem an odd place to record Wagner since
this composer is not the staple diet of Italian opera houses. However,
the orchestra shows no apparent unfamiliarity and I get the impression
that Reck must be a very good conductor indeed. He has the right sense
of Wagnerian ebb and flow and contributes very positively to the proceedings.
He does so again in the Die Walküre extract, recorded on
a different occasion, which contains long stretches for orchestra alone.
The young players of the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra – the all-European
youth orchestra created by Claudio Abbado – do not have the sheer weight
of string tone that an adult orchestra can give but they are otherwise
impressive and Reck’s pacing is unerring.
The Palermo acoustic is typically that of the theatre
– the voice is warmly caught but the orchestral bass-line a little tubby.
Orchestras sound like that when recorded in Bayreuth, so why worry?
The Bolzano recording is a more typical concert-hall sound.
As well as newcomers, seasoned opera buffs will surely
be pleased to have this collection of performances by a leading Wagnerian
bass-baritone of our times, and they will not be worried at the lack
of texts to music they know well. First-timers, once they have lapped
up the general sound of it all, might want to know more about the context
of the extracts, the more so when Dohmen provides examples from four
operas but a total of six characters – we get Amfortas and Gurnemanz
from Parsifal and Sachs and Pogner from Die Meistersinger.
It’s true that an Internet search should provide the answers and I could
understand if, at this price, no documentation could be included. But
the booklet has 16 pages, with copious notes in English and German on
the singer, the conductor and both orchestras, and full-page photos
of Dohmen, Reck and the Teatro Massimo. I can’t understand their sense
of priorities. Surely this could have been cut back a little to leave
space for at least a brief note on the context of each piece. Also,
I feel the retention of applause after each item would have been more
justified if we had been told something about the concerts which are
recorded here, giving us a sense that we are participating in them.
Still, you are getting some splendid Wagner singing
and conducting at a very low price. I am not a trained economist but
I wonder if 70 years ago, in relation to the cost of living, you could
have bought just the Die Walküre extract, spread over four
78 sides, for as little as this.