Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Overture to Das Liebesverbot (1836) [8:15]
Overture to Die Feen (1834) [10:48]
Tristan und Isolde, An Orchestral Passion (arr. 1994, Henk de Vlieger (b. 1953)) (1865) [51:31]
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Neeme Järvi
rec. Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, 16-17 February 2010. SACD DSD
CHANDOS CHSA 5087 [70:53]

I reviewed this in standard CD mode.

This disc continues Henk de Vlieger’s exploration and indeed advocacy of Wagner’s music-dramas as standalone orchestral pieces. The earlier volumes are:-

The Ring – An Orchestral Adventure RSNO/Järvi Chandos CHSA5060
Parsifal – An Orchestral Quest RSNO/Järvi Chandos CHSA5077

I cannot pretend that Wagner has ever attracted me enough to encourage me to explore any of the operas more than once – except Tristan. I am sure this must be more my problem than his. I recall dabbling in my early exploratory days. I enjoyed some of Boult’s EMI recordings of the orchestral excerpts. Lohengrin Act III prelude was a rowdy favourite of mine. I was a little bit interested when I heard a 1970s Radio 3 studio broadcast of Rienzi. The Siegfried Idyll does hold tender attractions. The Ride of the Valkyries was stunningly arrogated in Apocalypse Now. As for the rest I have sampled from time to time but for the most part I find myself wanting to turn away. It’s probably a problem with a short-breathed attention span.

The idea behind this music is old-fashioned and unfashionable. There’s no intrinsic criticism in that but the sort of thing de Vlieger does is hardly historically informed practice or part of the path to authenticity. Surely this is the way of showman-conductors such as Wood, Sargent and Stokowski? Perhaps not – after all what is untoward in making available accessible concert-hall doorways to music-dramas which are expensive to stage and indeed to attend. Stokowski did in fact produce a 20+ minute Symphonic Synthesis of Tristan in two variants. We have heard this in the Serebrier-Stokowski project on Naxos and also on Chandos from Bamert. This skilled seven-movement Passion is of about the size as a major late-romantic symphony. It broods on the broadest canvas reminding me, in the Einleitung, of Franck’s Psyché. Järvi evidently relishes the experience because a sort of romantic enthusiasm can be felt at every turn. The Nachtgesang is especially affecting with its solo violin. In the Vorspiel und Reigen one can hear how Tristan influenced film music – especially that of Bernard Herrmann and the late John Barry in their most broodingly expansive moods. The alert and increasingly urgent playing in the Das Wiedersehen as well as some pert woodwind make this a real delight. The Liebestod crowns a satisfyingly expansive work in which de Vlieger and Järvi nicely weight, accelerate, holds back and release (3:55) the music-drama’s slow ascent to sustained climax.

Two original Wagner scores preface the Passion. Järvi drives the Das Liebesverbot overture with a fiery will – it’s a great performance. This has to be an early work given the tendency towards repetition of orchestral effects including the generously represented castanets and percussion generally. The manner recalls more famous but later works from Weber, Sullivan and Rossini. The brass are abrasively throated. The sound is utterly magnificent. The Die Feen overture carries passing prescience of Meistersinger as does Das Liebesverbot in relation to Fliegende Holländer. It is however a more Weberian work with even a shade of the style of writing we now associate with Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream music. Once again Järvi gives this a passionately exciting impulse. In fact he plays both works without excuse as masterworks completely holding his and our attention. I doubt they have ever been better advocated.

The thoughtfully extensive notes are by Maarten Brandt.

Järvi on best of best form here.

Rob Barnett

Järvi on best of best form here.