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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Opera Choruses
The Mastersingers of Nuremberg Finale (excerpts) (Act 3). (David: Goran Eliasson, ten)
The Flying Dutchman Chorus of Norwegian Sailors and Girls (Act 3). (Steersman: Göran Eliasson, ten)
Tannhäuser Procession into the Hall of Song (Act 2, Scene 4)
Lohengrin Bridal Procession (Act 2, Scene 4)
Rienzi The Messengers of Peace (Act 2). (Rienzi: Lars Cleveman, ten; Messenger of Peace, Marianne Staykov, sop)
Parsifal The Journey to Montsalvat (Act 1) (Gurnemanz; Lennart Forsén, (bass); Titurel: John Erik Eleby, ten)
Soloists and Chorus of the Royal Swedish Opera. Royal Swedish Orchestra /Leif Segerstam
Recorded at the Royal Swedish Opera, Stockholm, Sweden, 14-20 March 2003
NAXOS 8.557714 [77.49]

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Looking at the current CD catalogue there is a proliferation of orchestral excerpts from Wagner operas, particularly The Ring, and also Overtures and Preludes, often under the baton of distinguished conductors. There are also plenty of recital discs by notable Wagnerian singers. However I failed to find, among the majors at least, a disc devoted to Wagner choruses. This Naxos issue is, I think, the only contender. The nearest I got was on Decca’s ‘World of Wagner’ which rather like Silvio Varviso’s ‘German Choruses’ (Philips nla) features several. Given the quality of music Wagner composed for his choruses, and the protagonist role they play in the operas, this dearth is surprising. Compare this situation with the discs available, at all price levels, devoted to choruses from Verdi operas. These discs often feature choruses from leading opera houses such as La Scala and conductors such as Muti and Abbado. Verdi often used a choral introduction to presage an aria, particularly in his earlier works. In Nabucco the Act one Gli arredi leads into Zaccaria’s Sperate, o figli! whilst the chorus of The Hebrew Slaves is immediately followed buy the aria Oh chi piange? With Wagner the situation is fundamentally different in that a soloist is often integrated within the choral context. In realistic terms this means that unless a recording company can extract the choruses from complete opera set, it is a non-stsarter commercially. To my knowledge this has only been done with a Decca Opera Gala issue (440 951-2 DA).

Naxos has, again, spotted a gap in the market and sought to fill it with this well recorded disc. They claim the Royal Swedish Opera has an outstanding Wagner tradition, and ‘has nurtured so many great Wagner artists’. Certainly the chorus sound wholly comfortable throughout. As Norwegian Sailors and Girls they are vibrant and idiomatic in their celebrations whilst Göran Eliasson is suitably lyric in his singing as the Steersman (tr. 2). In the less well-known Messengers of Peace from Rienzi the chorus are more reflective. Although the Rienzi of Lars Cleveman is tightly focused I am less comfortable with Marianne Staykov’s contribution (tr. 5). In The Journey to Montsalvat from Parsifal (tr. 6), Lennart Forsén as Gurnemanz is a little lacking in weight of tone, but this extended extract of 23 minutes is really all about chorus and orchestra and both perform well. Appropriately, only the Tannhäuser - Procession into the Hall of Song (tr. 3) and Lohengrin Bridal Procession (tr. 4) are, correctly, short extracts at around six minutes. All the others are extended scenes and better for it. The booklet gives all the German words with English translation as well as artist profiles and descriptions of the extracts in the context of the operas concerned. Well done Naxos!

Whilst Leif Segerstam is no Solti, or even Varviso, he has a feel for the Wagnerian idiom. Occasionally he lingers when I feel a more forward thrust would be present in a recording of the complete work. This can make the collection seem a little studio bound. Lovers of operatic chorus singing as well as Wagnerians, should add this disc to their collection. It has provided me with much listening pleasure.

Robert J Farr


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