This live recording
of a production of Wagner’s Flying
Dutchman sets itself apart from
others in claiming to be as close as
possible to the "original"
performing conditions of the 1840s.
While difficult to pin down exactly
which particular version it is aspiring
to emulate, since Wagner constantly
revised the work between its completion
in Paris and its premiere in Dresden
in 1943, the performance here nonetheless
sticks to original instruments, and
to the pre-Dresden text. It is therefore
set in Scotland, not Norway, and our
familiar Daland is here Donald, and
Erik, Georg. The musical differences
include using the quieter ophicleide
instead of a tuba, employing a smaller
number of instruments, and deploying
natural horns and trumpets which Wagner
cunningly set alongside the then-new
valve instruments to great and special
effect. Thus when we encounter the Dutchman
motif for the first time, it sounds
forth in the natural trumpet, and later,
in the natural horn, brilliantly creating
a more ghostly, raw, natural, wild and
mysterious sound, which works well.
The attempt to reconstruct an original
sound would mean the use of lighter
and less "romantic voices",
too, yet the recording has not captured
this quite so successfully, as Astrid
Weber, in particular, who plays Senta,
has a fairly heavyweight voice, thus
defeating their aims!
In the explanatory
sleeve-notes and interview with the
conductor Bruno Weil, Weil says of the
speed that "the tempi determine
themselves when playing on old instruments".
The start of the disc would not appear
to corroborate this. The opening few
minutes of the overture seem to me to
be taken at too swift a pace – certainly
the fastest I’ve ever heard it - and
the rushing orchestra almost fails to
keep up with the conductor’s drive!
It consequently lacks the majesty and
sweeping grandeur of other recordings,
yet the racing effect is comparatively
I was just very slightly
disappointed with the first act, which
came across as a little lack-lustre,
begging for more passion, and wasn’t
quite gripping or wild enough for me,
possibly concentrating too much on accuracy
and not enough on spirit. For instance,
in the second scene, the Dutchman’s
crew sing "Eternal destruction
take us" in a rather matter-of-fact
way rather than sounding despairing
as one might well imagine that anyone
uttering those words might be! However,
it is undoubtedly well-conducted and
excellently performed, with outstanding
strings (especially in the rushing sections)
and a gorgeous sound from the woodwind.
Franz-Josef Selig, who plays Donald,
has a nice rich tone, and the other
singers are good, albeit Senta’s song
(Act 2 / Scene 4) has some slightly
bad intonation in places, and Terje
Stensvold, the Dutchman, never manages
to sound mysterious, accursed, or desperately
It is fascinating to
hear the difference that the "original"
instrumentation makes. The whole work
comes across as far more "classical",
and has far less of that dark, heavy,
thick soup of sound that we – mistakenly
- tend to associate with Wagner. The
Act 1 / Scene 3 Donald and Dutchman
duet brings this lighter, thinner texture
and less rich and romantic air out well,
the girls’ song in Act 2 / Scene 4 has
a nice light touch – far more so than
one usually finds. In Act 2 / Scene
5, Georg seems to fit in far better
with the "reconstruction"
of an original sound with a much brighter,
slighter voice, also lending a more
classical feel to the proceedings.
Acts 2 and 3 are brilliant,
with far more fervour and passion, including
a deeply stirring duet between the Dutchman
and Senta in Act 2 / Scene 6. Overall,
this is a good performance with some
exquisite playing, competent conducting,
and excellent sound for a live recording.
It is certainly very interesting to
compare it with versions using modern
instruments and generally heavier voices.
So, fascinating from a historical and
musicological point of view and a fine
production to boot.