> Richard Wagner [IL]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Rienzi: Overture
Tannhäuser: Overture
Tannhäuser: Prelude (Act III)
Lohengrin: Prelude (Act I) *
Lohengrin: Prelude (Act III)
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg: Prelude
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg: Dance of the Apprentices and Entry of the Masters
Parsifal: Prelude (Act I) *
Der fliegende Holländer: Overture
Das Rheingold: Entry of the Gods into Valhalla *
Die Walküre: Ride of the Valkyries *
Siegfried: Forest Murmurs *
Götterdämmerung: Siegfried’s Rhine Journey *
Götterdämmerung: Siegfried’s Funeral March
Tristan und Isolde: Prelude and Liebestod
Otto Klemperer conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra
Recordings made in the Kingsway Hall, London in 1960, 1962† and 1963*

These celebrated recordings of popular orchestral excerpts from Wagner’s operas were first released as a double LP in 1960 with a follow-up third LP the following year. The latter LP also included a recording of the Siegfried-Idyll for which Klemperer insisted on using the original chamber ensemble that Wagner himself had employed on Christmas morning 1870 when he presented it as a birthday gift for his wife Cosima. All are now gathered together in this superb 2-CD set that boasts ‘a remastering at EMI’s Abbey Road Studios and noise-shaping via the Prism SNS system for optimum sound quality’. A description that sounds very impressive - and it certainly is for the sound is really stunning; warm with great clarity and transparency and impressive depth and wide perspectives.

Every item in this programme impresses strongly. Listen to the brass chords advancing and receding in the rapt opening of the Rienzi Overture; Klemperer makes this early piece anticipate Lohengrin and gives it a rare stature. It is not, as in so many other versions, just the usual sabre-rattling pot-boiler. Klemperer’s positioning, balance and phrasing of the brass consistently thrills. The brass choirs spread across the soundstage in the climax of the Parsifal Prelude, for instance, sound glorious and the effect is very moving. The very same brass, unbridled, lift the Ride of the Valkyries in a cracking, crisp and realistically evocative performance that has great rhythmic thrust. The Philharmonia strings sing gorgeously too, notably in the powerful Tannhäuser excerpts. The woodwinds are allowed to shine and add appropriate weight and colour. Klemperer’s predilection for slow tempi have often been noted but here the strong forward thrust in his passionate reading of the Liebestod may come as a surprise to many.

I would also mention the dignity and humanity of the Die Meistersinger excerpts with light-hearted joyousness and lilt in the apprentices’ music, and the extraordinarily vivid storm music of The Flying Dutchman. Then there is the magnificently proud ‘Entry of the Gods into Valhalla’, the wonderfully heroic Siegfried’s Rhine Journey and the deeply tragic-heroic Siegfried’s Funeral March – consummately gripping from its opening darkly imposing drum roll through to its shattering climax and affecting diminuendo - utterly compelling.

As an antidote to so much powerful music from a large orchestra there is the haven of the Siegfried-Idyll here using Wagner’s intended 5 solo strings, 1 flute, 1 oboe, 2 clarinets, 1 bassoon, 2 horns, and 1 trumpet. The effect is magical, more intimate, more tender and not without touches of warm-hearted humour. On a relatively quiet note too, ‘Forest Murmurs’ is a ravishing pastoral evocation.

Excellent compelling performances in stunning sound. Those wanting these popular orchestral excerpts from Wagner operas need look no further. Heartily recommended.

Ian Lace

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