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
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.