Orchestras and conductors have been recording Wagner – his overtures
or those infamous “bleeding chunks” – ever since the dawn of recording.
So, with many decades worth of accounts already set down and preserved
for posterity, any new entrants to the crowded field need to be
pretty confident of their artistic credentials to justify the
be frank. These recordings do not offer any earth-shattering
performances that will have you ditching Furtwängler, Stokowski,
Klemperer, Karajan, Ormandy, Tennstedt or any other idiosyncratic
choice of your own - for me it’s the long-forgotten Max von
Schillings on the Preiser label.
that’s not to say that these accounts are not worth a mention.
On the contrary, each of them offers interesting, well-played
and well-recorded music-making that will certainly not disappoint
– and may actually delight – a purchaser.
the four conductors involved, it is the least known but most recently
recorded, Hiroshi Wakasugi, a Japanese who spent the 1980s largely
working in Germany - both East and West - and Switzerland, who
makes possibly the strongest impact. His Tannhäuser and
Rienzi overtures are characterised by careful phrasing
and deliberate tempi: even Otto Klemperer – never known as a speed
merchant – takes significantly less time over each of them in
his splendid accounts from the early 1960s that have now been
collected together as one of EMI’s Great Recordings of the Century
(EMI 5678932). But Wakasugi’s speeds entirely suit these particular
pieces and the Dresden players respond superbly to his direction.
Kegel and Otmar Suitner both spent most of their professional
careers behind the Iron Curtain in East Germany, so neither
man acquired the high profiles that their musicianship would
probably have gained them elsewhere. Even when Kegel’s recordings
were marketed in the west, it was done in a comparatively
low profile manner. Appearing seemingly out of nowhere on the
super-budget Capriccio label, his wholly admirable complete
set of Beethoven symphonies, for instance, looked simply too
good to be true and went, at the time, largely unregarded.
Meanwhile, in 1990, the same year that stanch communist Kegel
committed suicide as the Berlin Wall was coming down, Otmar
Suitner gave up his post as head of the (East) Berlin State
Opera and, shortly thereafter, was forced by illness to bring
his conducting career to an end. Thus he too, in spite a rather
higher profile in the west thanks to recordings on Denon and
even Deutsche Grammophon, never achieved his due recognition.
tracks on this new disc demonstrate, though, that each man was
far more than merely competent on the conductor’s podium. Of
course, the musical intensity of the Lohengrin and Parsifal
preludes pose very different – and arguably greater - musical
challenges than those faced by Wakasugi in his allocated repertoire.
But the extra years of experience clocked up by Kegel (b. 1920)
and Suitner (b. 1922) mean that each gets right to the heart
of the appropriate idiom.
a generation earlier, Franz Konwitschny spent almost all his
career in the top echelons of East German musical life, leading
the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra (1949-1962), the Dresden Staatskapelle
(1953-1955) and the Berlin State Opera (1955-1962). With such
a workload – and with a taste for excessive alcohol that supposedly
gained him the nickname Kon-whisky – it is perhaps not
surprising that he lived the shortest life of any of the conductors
under consideration here. Readers familiar with his 1960 EMI
recordings of The Flying Dutchman and Tannhäuser (both
sadly let down by some poor singing) will need no convincing
of his rare merits as a Wagnerian: never a flashy interpreter,
his interpretations are characterised by care, restraint and
sophisticated orchestral colouring. As in all tracks on this
disc, the orchestra plays very well indeed and the recording
belies its age.
will have gathered that, in spite of its rather short measure
at less than 60 minutes of music, I enjoyed this disc a great
deal. The four conductors represented may not be particularly
big names in the 21st century but all are well worth
hearing. By all means keep your CDs of Klemperer, Solti or Karajan
(or even von Schillings!), but if you are looking for a sound
– and even, at times, inspiring – account of these pieces, you
could certainly do a lot worse than consider this one.