Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Der Fliegende Holländer (Original Dresden version) (1843)
Dutchman – Theo Adam (bass-baritone)
Senta – Anja Silja (soprano)
Daland – Martti Talvela (baritone)
Erik – Ernst Kozub (tenor)
Mary – Annelies Burmeister (mezzo)
Steersman – Gerhard Unger (tenor)
BBC Chorus; New Philharmonia Orchestra/Otto Klemperer
rec. 1968, No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London
EMI CLASSICS 4 56470 2 [75:58 + 76:09]


Klemperer’s 1968 Dutchman is among the new crop of EMI’s Home of Opera series. At budget price there is no booklet but you can access the PDF files via a CD-Rom which is included in the case. This famous performance comes up well in its re-mastered format: tape hiss is at a minimum, though there remains some fogginess at climaxes. There is a lot to enjoy here but for me it isn’t a top choice.

The major problem of the set is that the finest vocal performances come in minor roles. The most distinguished voice is Martti Talvela’s Daland who sounds characterful and authoritative with a wonderful colour to his voice. Talvela never really got a chance to shine in the very greatest Wagner bass roles and I’ve always regretted this, all the more so when I hear him in this recording. The special timbre and refined colour of his voice is a joy and he lifts the attention every time he features. Similarly, Ernst Kozub is a marvellously interesting Erik. He sounds heroic and really quite thrilling in every phrase, making you marvel that Senta doesn’t choose him! It is now well known that Kozub was John Culshaw’s original choice for the role of Siegfried in the Decca/Solti Ring and encountering him here makes you regret that this never came off.

The major roles are, unfortunately, more variable. Anja Silja’s commitment to the role of Senta is never less than total but her voice, to me, sounded uncomfortably shrill too often. Furthermore she never really puts this to the dramatic use of the character until the very final scene where she throws herself into the sea after the Dutchman. As for the Dutchman himself, Theo Adam’s gravelly voice helps him to identify with the character’s grief and towering suffering, but he misses much of the role’s poetry. The “angel” section of the opening monologue lacks the power to move and during his Act 1 duet it is Daland who sounds the more dominant and authoritative. For me Adam’s voice lacked a centre, sounding rather hollow at times. Wie aus der Ferne, however, sounds fantastic, bringing out the best in both singers and the conductor.

Klemperer’s conducting carries predictable weight – just listen to the opening of the overture – but is not uniformly overwhelming; Senta’s theme in the overture is full of intense yearning, though her Act 2 ballad is much too slow. That said, I felt that he lacked the overall conception that drives the work and he isn’t helped by the fact that he chooses the original version which divides the work into three distinct acts which, for those used to the continuous span, carries very abrupt climaxes at the end of each act. This version also omits the transcendent ending that Wagner later added, meaning that the closing bars come as something of a shock, though that by itself isn’t a reason to rule it out.

The singing of the chorus is fine if a little coarse, particularly in Act 3. I found the extraneous noise of the spinning wheels and stamping sailors rather annoying, and Gerhard Unger’s Steersman isn’t as lyrical as his rivals on disc.

For me, then, the singing from the two leads is too variable to make this a serious contender. I’m told by those who know that Testament’s live recording of a similar cast from the same year packs a lot more punch than the studio version, but I have heard only a few extracts so can’t reliably comment. For me the finest Dutchman is still Sinopoli’s star-studded recording from the Deutsche Oper on DG, but if you want that then you’ll need to go full price. If you would consider the work in English then you’ll be more than satisfied with John Tomlinson and Nina Stemme as a fantastic pair of leads on Chandos.

Simon Thompson