I well remember that night in 1989 when, in the final of the
"Cardiff Singer of the World" competition that
Terfel, then in his strapping early twenties, embarked
on the Dutchman's Monologue. The audience were, to use a pungent
North of England phrase, 'gob smacked. The competition
audiences hadn't heard much Wagner before, nor have they since.
At the conclusion of Terfel's performance, the native Welsh in
the Cardiff audience, ever hoping for a home win in this renowned
international competition thought they had it in the pocket.
However, whilst Terfel's firm toned, vocally beautiful portrayal
lacked the ultimate in expressing the Dutchman's musings, Dmitri
Hvorostovky's singing of Rodrigo's final aria and death, from
Verdi's Don Carlo, didn't, and the home hero came second.
Ever since that evening Wagnerians have hoped, waited for and
wanted, Terfel's move into their beloved repertoire. Thankfully,
for the sake of his wonderful vocal resources, he has, up to
the present, restricted his appearances in the theatre in this
repertoire, whilst singing a number of Wagner recitals often
under the baton of Claudio Abbado. It is from two such performances
in 2001 that this CD is derived. It includes some of the most
formidable vocal challenges in the operatic canon. Perhaps the
greatest enjoyment of this disc is that Terfel sings all the
excerpts with a security, and wide palette, of tone that far
too often is lacking in performances of this repertoire in the
theatre and on record. His singing of Sachs' two monologues is
outstanding, as is his enunciation of the language, steady legato
and judicious use of half voice, where appropriate, throughout
the disc. Yes, his Dutchman still lacks the ultimate variation
of tone and inflection that George London brought to the part,
and one hopes for greater insight into the Wanderer by the time
he essays the role at Covent Garden in 2005, but that is to quibble.
This is magnificent singing of the most demanding repertoire
for the bass-baritone voice. Neither the recording, with the
voice too recessed for my liking, nor Abbado's conducting is
as outstanding as the singing, but never less than adequate.
All Wagnerians, Welshmen, opera lovers, and many others will
want to add this disc to their shelves. They shouldn't hesitate.
The final good news is that you get a full 72 minutes for your
money, not a paltry fifty odd that often seems the ration on
new recital discs on some labels!
Robert J Farr