Varviso has had positions in several important opera houses.
He also recorded extensively, mainly during the sixties and
seventies. To record collectors he is mostly known in Italian
repertoire but he conducted at Bayreuth. There is a Philips
recording of his Die Meistersinger and during his period
as chief conductor at the Royal Opera in Stockholm he led several
Wagner performances. I remember a great Lohengrin, which
I recorded from the radio. It had Nicolai Gedda in his only
Wagnerian role and in the early 70s I saw impressive performances
from Varviso of his Der Ring des Nibelungen. So his German
credentials are in order. Here he is at the helm of a noted
Wagner orchestra and with the excellent Leipzig Radio Chorus,
fresh-voiced and with the punch needed for some of the more
pompous choruses. He conducts mostly lively, rhythmically alert
and well nuanced versions of some eternal favourites. Most readers
will undoubtedly have these choruses, probably in more than
one version, but with excellent sound, very wide dynamics and
infectious freshness this collection can be confidently recommended.
The wide dynamic
range can sometimes be a problem for domestic listening. The
Moon Chorus from Die lustigen Weiber starts so softly
that one has to turn up the volume well above the average setting
to hear anything at all of the magical orchestral introduction
and in the Prisoners’ chorus from Fidelio it’s the same
story. When the fortissimo outbreaks come one has to run for
shelter. Whether it’s the recording or Varviso’s decisions that
affect the chorus from Die Zauberflöte is hard to know:
Mozart clearly distinguishes between p and f but
here it’s rather pp versus ff. Anyway the result
is thrilling and in a larger listening room than mine it would
probably be less of a problem.
The big Wagner choruses
are of course impressive, especially the Wach auf from
the third act of Die Meistersinger, here linked with
the final chorus from the opera to make it a suitable piece
for concert purposes. This chorus has a special place in my
heart, since it was the first opera chorus I had in my record
collection, on an ancient Telefunken single, coupled with the
Prisoners’ chorus from Nabucco. The Verdi chorus I knew
from the radio but I was fascinated by the visionary greatness
of the Wagner and played it over and over again on my quite
simple equipment. Of course it never sounded anything like this
Leipzig/Dresden version, where one can bask in the glorious
sound produced in the justly famous acoustics of Lukaskirche.
The guests in the
second act of Tannhäuser make their entrance in Wartburg
with a spring in the step that makes one feel that there is
also a troupe of dancers pirouetting around the noble guests.
The Pilgrims’ chorus, on the other hand, approach in complete
stillness, until the orchestra joins in, creating a sense of
the joy they feel on their return from Rome.
The whole recital
gave me a lot of pleasure and with some twiddling of the knobs
I was able to tame the wide dynamics. Carl Rosman gives valuable
information about the operas and the function of the choruses
but we’ll have to do without the sung texts.