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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Tristan und Isolde. Act II. Scenes 1 and 2.
Tristan, John Horton Murray (ten); Isolde, Margaret Jane Wray (sop); Brangäne, Nancy Maltsby (mezzo);
Götterdämmerung. Act III Scene 3
Brünnhilde, Margaret Jane Wray (sop)
Russian State Symphony Orchestra/John McGlinn
Recorded in Studio No 5. Moscow Film Studios, 23-30 May 2001
NAXOS 8.555789 [76.39]


Can we put it down to Murphy’s law that I received this disc of Wagnerian scenes at the same time as the Naxos complete recording of Tristan und Isolde featuring the unequalled Flagstad as Isolde and the formidable Furtwängler on the rostrum. We cannot live in the past forever and Flagstad retired from the stage and Wagner portrayals over 40 years ago. Margaret Jane Wray is claimed as earning recognition as a brilliant jugendlich-dramatisch soprano. She has certainly appeared at the Met, La Scala and the Berlin State Opera among other venues under renowned conductors. My only record of her was as an alternate to the lyrical mezzo Susan Graham in Cincinnati. In fact the welcome biographical details list Verdi’s Desdemona and her debut role at La Scala as Mme. Lidoine in Poulenc’s Carmelites under Muti, certainly soprano territory. There is warmth in her tone as she climbs the stave in the love duet from Tristan (trs.5-18) as well as at its ecstatic climax (tr. 19). That warmth also enables Ms Wray to bring a welcome touch of sensuousness to what is after all a scene of seduction and sexual love. The Tristan of John Horton Murray does not wholly share that vocal strength and security; moments of strain intrude. He too has an impressive CV, singing at Covent Garden, the Verona Arena and La Scala. This Wagnerian territory is perhaps a step too far; he would be ill advised to sing the role in the theatre. Nancy Maltsby is a low mezzo Brangäne. She is tested by John McGlinn’s tempi in Brangäne’s battlement watch (tr. 13). I know McGlinn’s conducting only from the series of Broadway Shows that he recorded for EMI in the late 1980s. In fact he also has another Wagner disc for Naxos. His tempi are on the slow side and he seems unable to build an orchestral climax even with the resources of the Russian State Symphony Orchestra. This does tend to emasculate the music particularly in the Immolation Scene from Götterdämmerung. The flaccidity of the conducting seriously restricts Wray’s Brünnhilde. It is a role that I suspect is not yet within her compass (trs. 20-26).

The balance of the recording slightly favours the orchestra. By the best Naxos standards it lacks depth. I should note that the recording uses the concert ending to the love duet that Wagner made in 1862. This is said to be only the second time this has featured on disc. The present issue promises more than it delivers. It is a pity that Naxos did not use one of their regular venues and orchestras with the likes of the experienced opera conductor Michael Halász. As it is, one can hear the promising newcomer in Ms Wray and keep an eye open for her name in the future.

Robert J Farr

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