> Richard Wagner - The Flying Dutchman [KS]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
The Flying Dutchman (excerpts)

Naxos "Opera Explained"
Written by Thomson Smillie
Narrated by David Timson
Musical examples taken from Naxos 8.660025-26, The Flying Dutchman with Alfred Muss, Ingrid Haubold, Peter Seiffert, Erich Knodt, Jörg Hering, Marga Schiml, the ORF Symphony Orchestra, Pinchas Steinberg, conductor. Also contains excerpts from other Wagner operas.
NAXOS 8.558013 [67.31]


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Naxos continues to add jewels to their crown with this fine series of educational recordings. "Opera Explained" delves into the lives, times and works of great opera composers. This introduction to Wagner’s early masterpiece is a fine example of just how well an educational effort can be done.

In just over an hour, we are taken through the life and works of Richard Wagner, one of music’s great revolutionaries and one of the most controversial characters ever to pick up a pen. It has been said that more books have been written on the topic of Wagner that of any other figure in history save Jesus Christ.

Well paced and written at a level that will entertain professionals while enlightening novices, this fine script by Thomson Smillie is brought to life with great panache by David Timson. The thing that I found most appealing is that before we launched into bleeding chunks of the Dutchman, we were given a thorough grounding in Wagner’s compositional style through some very well chosen excerpts from other works. We also learned a great deal about his politics, ambition and sexual prowess.

We are given just enough music to whet our appetites, and I for one will add Naxos’s complete recording of Dutchman to my collection. Compared to the Classics Explained series, which deals with symphonic repertoire, the booklet notes are pretty skimpy. (See my review of the Beethoven sixth from this series for details.) That is both good and bad. Good, because one would be more inclined to use the elaborate symphony books as references rather than sit-down reads, and bad because it would be nice to have such a reference for the operas. There is a lot to know about Wagner, you know.

The disc however, makes up for any frugality on the printed page, and one leaves with a better understanding of a very complex composer and his work. Recommended for opera lovers and newcomers alike, this is another winning series from what has come to be my very favorite record label. (Hey, I am a critic; I am allowed to be biased!)

At this rate, I hope that we will soon begin to see series such as this one devoted to chamber music, the choral literature and solo instrument repertoire. Since it seems to be Naxos’ mission to give us an excellent affordable recording of the entirety of Western Art Music, I don’t see what would stop them. (HINT!)

Buy this disc and the others in the series. You will be glad you did.

Kevin Sutton

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