Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
A Faust Overture (1855) [12:36]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
A Faust Symphony (1857) [118:29]
Endrik Wottrich (tenor)
Staatskapelle Dresden/Christian Thielemann
rec. Semperoper, Dresden, 2011
Audio Format PCM Stereo, DTS-HD MA 5.1. Video Format 16:9 1080p Blu-ray disc
This review is of the DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround tracks.

A gold star and a round of applause to the technical team at Unitel Classica / C major. Here is a disc which loads and starts with audience sounds and no menus at all! It could not be simpler. One has to select audio format and subtitle language via the player remote - on my player these buttons are clearly labelled. The disc defaults to PCM stereo and no subtitles. The sound has a proper hall perspective and the microphones, though liberally spread around the orchestra are both visually well hidden and audibly mixed with great subtlety. There is no spotlighting of instruments. The picture is clean and the video direction undistracting. Itís an object lesson in how this sort of thing should be done.

The Dresden orchestra watch Thielemann closely through the concert. His eyes are more on them than on the score; he doesn't even open this during the short Wagner item. This is top class music-making by one of the world's greatest orchestras and that is what shines through this entire enterprise. These players are quite different to those of Lucerne in that they do not come across as a group of soloists playing together so much as a coherent team playing as one. The silky smoothness of the strings is glorious to hear and the brass and wind sections manage to emulate that silkiness. I would urge readers to watch both this and one of Abbado's Lucerne Mahler performances to see what I mean.

This concert was a bicentennial celebration of the birth of Liszt which alone explains the esoteric programme. I will be contentious and say that for me neither piece is of the finest. Wagner is definitely just getting into his stride with the Faust Overture and Liszt manages intermittent inspiration in the symphony: Mahler, Schumann and even Busoni made better music for Faust in my opinion. That said, this three part character portrayal after Goethe of Faust, Gretchen and Mephistopheles has passages of drama and great beauty. The lovely Gretchen movement is delicately played with magnificent woodwind solos. Mephistopheles is Liszt's most 'symphonic' movement for it consists mostly of thematic developments from the earlier two parts. Here the orchestra are at their most impressive, playing the fast and complex music with consummate skill. The closing andante mistico is handled most beautifully by the chorus and tenor soloist and it is perhaps here that the music impresses most. It is no wonder the orchestra and conductor look so pleased and the audience breaks into thunderous applause. One cannot imagine the works being better performed.

Dave Billinge

A beautifully performed and recorded Liszt Bicentennial concert.