Janowski’s Wagner cycle arrives at Lohengrin and
by this point in the series some things can safely be relied
on. The first is Janowski’s penchant for fast tempi which,
in this context, carries the welcome advantage that each act
fits onto one disc. It seldom feels rushed, however. When he
broadens out it is for the more famously contemplative moments,
such as In fernem Land or Einsam in truben tagen.
In fact, the dawn interlude in the third act begins remarkably
slowly but gathers pace as it develops, an effect that not everyone
The other normally dependable advantages are slightly less reliable
this time around. One is the beauty of the orchestral playing,
which is still extraordinary. However, it takes a while for
the shimmer effect to set in. The divided strings of the prelude
are ever so slightly shaky in the opening bars and I couldn’t
really relax into it until the entry of the woodwinds. The scenes
surrounding Lohengrin’s entrance in Act 1, however, are
wonderful, as is the playing around In fernem Land. The
string tone for the opening of Act 2 is wonderfully dark. The
other advantage is the quality of the recorded sound. It’s
very good, bringing clarity and light to the string and wind
sound especially. However, the brass feel slightly recessed
this time around: the important trumpet fanfares at the climax
of the prelude are difficult to hear, and most of the big climaxes
are a little underplayed, including the prelude to Act 3. It’s
most damaging in the final bars of the second act where the
theme of the forbidden question should thunder out on the brass
but here struggles to make itself heard above the general orchestral
texture which can come across as slightly thick and muddy. Perhaps
I’m only noticing these flaws because these aspects have
been so excellent in other instalments of the series, but it’s
a pity that the magic is less forthcoming this time around.
Still, get over this and there’s a lot to enjoy. Most
discussion will probably centre around Klaus Florian Vogt’s
assumption of the title role. I’d heard the name before
but I’d never heard him sing until I put on this recording.
At first hearing I found the voice very difficult to place.
Initially it is very light, almost childish in places, and it
almost entirely lacks the burnished quality that so distinguishes,
say, Domingo’s reading of the role. There are times when
he can even sound a little pinched and he is certainly a far
cry from the traditional heldentenor sound of, say, Siegfried
Jerusalem or James King. However, the more I heard of him the
more I liked him. The finest quality he brings is one of vulnerability,
something that is undoubtedly an important part of the character’s
make-up, particularly in Act 3, but something we so rarely hear.
In Vogt’s hands the character appears sympathetic and
genuinely interesting. We actually feel for him when he is summoned
back to the realm of the grail at the end. His voice has a wounded,
pleading quality to it in his interactions with Elsa, both in
the third act and, perhaps even more convincingly, the closing
scene of Act 2. Vogt’s reading may be a little unconventional,
but he brings something new and valuable to the role and for
that reason alone he demands to be heard. Like Vogt, Annette
Dasch does not have a voice one might normally associate with
her role. She is a touch mature and even a little effortful
in her first appearance, but she grows in stature as the opera
develops and she makes an urgent foil for Vogt. Their duet at
the start of Act 3 is very compelling, perhaps the highlight
of the set. A genuine conversation seems to be taking place
between them and there’s heightened sense of tragedy when
she eventually asks him his name.
Gerd Grochowski is a vital, wide-eyed Telramund who refuses
to accept his own defeat and has a convincing, dark urgency
which suits the role well. Susanne Resmark does not sound happy
in the role of Ortrud, however. Her voice appears big and unwieldy
and she squawks a little when going for some of the higher writing.
More damagingly, she lacks the subtlety that the role really
requires: this Ortrud is blankly malevolent and little else.
Günther Groissböck is a vigorous King Heinrich, sounding
younger than you might expect for the character, but he is grips
the attention and adds an extra sense of energy to the part.
Markus Brück’s herald is dependable, as are the cameo
roles. The choral singing is also first rate, and here again
the quality of the recording comes into its own, with lots of
transparency revealing inner lines and balancing the voices
well against the orchestral background.
Somewhat like his Meistersinger, this is a good addition
to Janowski’s Wagner cycle, but despite its evident attractions
it falls short of being essential. Lohengrin is, after
all, probably the best represented of all Wagner’s operas
on disc, and each set - including this one, to be fair - has
something special to set it apart. Domingo’s singing is
exceptionally beautiful and well rounded, both for Solti on CD or Abbado on DVD. Siegfried Jerusalem for Abbado on CD gives
perhaps the best overall interpretation of the title role. He
is backed up by a sensitive Cheryl Studer as Elsa and an extraordinary
Orturd from Waltraud Meier. James King and Gundula Janowitz
are the sweetest sounding pair on disc - if slightly anonymous
at times - for Kubelik. Barenboim’s men are outstanding
while his women are a little bland, and Kempe’s extraordinary Vienna performance still holds
its own decades after it first appeared.
When you compare this Pentatone release to these, or even to
other modern DVD releases, most notably Kaufmann and Harteros in Munich or Nagano’s Lyon production (also featuring Vogt in the
title role), Janowski is solid but not superb.