Richard WAGNER (1813–1883)
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, WWV96, an orchestral tribute (Symphonic compilation, arranged 2005 by Henk de VLIEGER (b. 1953)) [47:51]
Eine Faust-Ouvertüre, WWV59 (1840, rev.1855) [11:03]
Deux Entreactes tragiques (Performing version, 1996, by Henk de VLIEGER after compositional sketches from 1832) [12:26]
Overture to ‘Columbus’, WWV37 (1835, edited 1907 by Felix MOTTL (1856 – 1911) as concert overture with the title Christoph Columbus) [8:05]
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Neeme Järvi
rec. Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, 17–19 August 2010. DDD/DSD. Hybrid SACD
CHANDOS CHSA5092 [79:54]

Also available as a download from (CHAN5092, mp3, 16-bit and 24-bit/96kHz lossless and surround sound) as reviewed in October 2011/1 Download Roundup here.

Chandos have produced several of Henk de Vlieger’s orchestral realisations of Wagner operas. This kind of ‘Wagner without tears’ is far from new: bleeding chunks of the Ring cycle are often performed, such as the Ride of the Valkyries and Magic Fire Music from die Walküre and Siegfried’s Journey to the Rhine from Götterdämmerung; the Venusberg music is the best known part of Tannhäuser, the Good Friday Spell of Parsifal and the Prelude and closing Liebestod of Tristan und Isolde, played together as one piece, turn one of the longest operas into one of the shortest on record.

What Henk de Vlieger has done goes beyond these bleeding chunks, however, in an attempt to produce an orchestral synthesis of a complete opera: The Ring - an orchestral adventure (CHSA5060 – see review by Dan Morgan), Parsifal – an orchestral quest (CHSA5077 – see review by Simon Thompson) and Tristan und Isolde – an orchestral passion (CHSA5087 – see review by Rob Barnett). The aim of the process for die Meistersinger, presenting a symphonic whole rather than a potpourri, is well explained in Emanuel Overbeeke’s notes in the booklet, included in the original Dutch as well as in translation.

Essentially the aim is the same as on previous recordings, but these orchestral syntheses have met with mixed reviews here and elsewhere: veteran reviewer Edward Greenfield thought that the Ring conflation worked remarkably well, but our own Dan Morgan was underwhelmed by it, and Simon Thompson was not much more enthusiastic about the Parsifal. The Tristan recording seems to have come off best, holding Rob Barnett’s attention more than Wagner normally does. Whether that or the new Meistersinger recording counts as a symphonic compilation, however, remains an open question; in my opinion, it doesn’t quite qualify.

Henk de Vlieger starts with a real advantage in the case of die Meistersinger von Nürnberg in that the opening Prelude and that to Act III are established concert pieces which make perfect sense when played on their own. Equally, since this is a more light-hearted work – Wagner’s equivalent of Verdi’s Falstaff, if you like – there’s less of the high ground for us Wagnerites to defend, so that a potpourri of the kind that de Vlieger has sought to avoid, perhaps with the Offenbach/Rosenthal Gaîté Parisienne in mind, might not have been too objectionable. Nor is there one absolutely clear winner among recordings of the opera to point to as definitive in terms of tempo and the like, though most of us will have a firm favourite – in my case the stereo Karajan, recently reissued on EMI 6407882; for all that I recognise the superiority of the earlier mono version (Naxos Historical 8.110872/5), the recording requires too much tolerance.

In the two preludes Järvi judges the pace very nicely – none of the tempo problems which Dan Morgan noted in the Ring compilation: the opening Vorspiel (9:25) comes within two seconds of the stereo Karajan in the complete opera (9:27); both are a little slower than the mono Karajan (9:11) and all three are a fraction faster than his recording of the same piece on his EMI recording of Wagner Overtures and Preludes (4768962), where he takes 9:34. The same observation, that Järvi’s tempi and direction are pretty close to what one would hear in the opera house or on record*, is generally true elsewhere and, at the risk of upsetting Wagnerites who are more serious about their man than I am, it was only really in Walther’s Preislied that I missed the vocal contributions. In compensation for any loss, I noted some of the felicities of Wagner’s orchestral writing that normally go unnoticed.

* with the inevitable exception of Reginald Goodall, whose slow-paced but enjoyable English-language Mastersingers is preserved on Chandos CHAN3148 (4 CDs).

Among more recent versions, Marek Janowski, who also includes the two Meistersinger Preludes on a budget-price 2-CD set on Virgin (5620342) is significantly slower, thereby losing some of the power which Järvi imparts.

The inclusion of some rarities adds to the appeal of this recording, not least the Faust Overture, which inevitably invites comparison with Liszt’s Faust Symphony, a comparison from which the less well known Wagner emerges far from defeated. Most of the currently available recordings are of a certain vintage, so the new recording is very welcome.

The two Entreactes (sic) are pretty small beer; I would have had real difficulty in identifying them as the work of Wagner. Closer to the echt-Wagner mode is the final work, the overture to Theodor Apel’s popular play of the 1830s about Christopher Columbus. There’s only one other version in the current catalogue, an early Naxos recording with Alexander Rahbari and the Malaga Philharmonic Orchestra. The neglect is unjustified, though one wouldn’t place it on the top ten list of Wagner works, and the performance here makes a strong case for it.

I listened to this recording in the 16-bit lossless download format, equivalent to the CD layer of the SACD, burning the result to CDR and printing out the booklet to recapture the effect of holding the physical disc in my hand. I thought the recording just slightly lacking brightness at first, but a small boost of volume helped considerably and I think, in any case, that the lack of voices where the memory expects to hear them contributes mainly to the illusion. I didn’t notice the same problem in the purely orchestral works. Sound buffs with large bankrolls may wish to investigate the Studio Surround version, though it doesn’t come cheaply; at £19.99 a throw, it’s more expensive than the SACD.

I approached this recording with some apprehension in the light of reviews of earlier releases. In the event I enjoyed the whole thing much more than I had anticipated, though with the reservation about its symphonic status. I think that most Wagnerites who found those earlier arrangements lacking will be more tolerant of the new recording – and, probably, some non-Wagnerians who find themselves enjoying the Prelude as a separate item will also enjoy it.

Brian Wilson

Not exactly ‘symphonic’ but well worth hearing.