Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Rienzi Overture [11:36]
Tristan und Isolde – Prelude & Liebestod [15:30]
Lohengrin – Act 3 Prelude [3:16]
Lohengrin – Act 1 Prelude [7:17]
Wesendonck Lieder [20:10]
Die Meistersinger Act 1 Prelude [8:42]
Ride of the Valkyries [5:11]
Measha Brueggergosman (soprano)
Cleveland Orchestra/Franz Welser-Möst
rec. live, Severance Hall, Cleveland, February 2010
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 477 8773 [72:16]

This disc begins well, with a focused, intense reading of the Rienzi overture. Welser-Möst, a distinguished Wagnerian in Zurich and Vienna, keeps things moving, refusing to wallow in the big string theme. He shows absolute clarity of pacing, unfolding the structure with a sense of expectancy. The most obvious beauty is the glorious warmth of the Cleveland string sound with brass bright, rather than heavy, without losing a sense of weight. The Meistersinger overture has similar virtues, as does the rhythmically muscular Ride of the Valkyries. It is with the other preludes that issues become apparent. Welser-Möst is at his best in the pieces that carry an extrovert charge, such as those mentioned above, revelling in the great sounds that his orchestra is capable of producing. He is less secure in controlling the gentle unfolding of Lohengrin and Tristan. The pacing of the Tristan prelude is all over the place with none of the certainty of Rienzi, so that the listener feels even more at-sea than Wagner must have intended. The quicker sections of the prelude swoop and muddle while the Liebestod – the orchestral version only – develops much too quickly for my taste, losing any sense of mystery or of climax. Similarly, the Lohengrin Act 1 prelude is too fast and lacks wonder, despite the marvellous shimmer to the string sound. The Act 3 prelude doesn’t suffer this, but oddly the brass don’t have as much presence as you might hope.

The Wesendonck Lieder, on the other hand, are a much more compelling reason for exploring this disc, beautifully played and distinctively sung. The orchestral textures shine through magically, though the recording balance emphasises the soprano a little too much. Measha Brueggergosman’s dark, lustrous soprano is perfect for these masterpieces of twilight and she inhabits the words as convincingly as she does the music. Without her contribution this disc wouldn’t be anything that special.

Simon Thompson

The Wesendonck Lieder are beautifully played and distinctively sung