Here Orfeo catches Christian Thielemann on the wing at the Musikverein. He has a strong association with the orchestra and it was at the Deutsche Oper Berlin that he embarked on his career as an eighteen year old répétiteur. At the time of this recording Thielemann had just completed his seven year tenure as the orchestra’s general music director and was on tour with the orchestra.
A specialist in late-Romantic Austro/German music, Thielemann is in his element with this Wagner programme having conducted all the major works in the Wagner canon from the pit of the Deutsche Oper Berlin. In May 2013 at the Semperoper Dresden on the eve of the bicentennial of Wagner’s birth I witnessed Thielemann’s special affinity with Wagner when I reported from a commemorative Staatskapelle Dresden concert. That exciting evening of Wagner overtures and preludes also included great tenor opera scenes sung by Jonas Kaufmann.
What can be heard on this disc is a coming together - a true meeting of minds between orchestra and conductor. Thielemann is as incisive and direct as ever with his account of the Rienzi Overture creating a stunning weight of orchestral sound and assuredly underlining the memorable main melody. Also outstanding is the Lohengrin Prelude with the opening on the high strings having an uplifting celestial glow. Exquisitely played pairs of horns, bassoons and clarinets open the Tannhauser overture. Thielemann ratchets up the tension with a faultless blend of assurance and sheer drama. Gloriously unified and with an appealing timbre this feels like an object lesson in horn playing; an instrument so difficult to master in the concert hall. From Götterdämmerung the playing of Siegfried’s Rhine Journey, so vividly caught, makes quite an impact. Admirable woodwind contributions are matched by the expressive strings that produce a heavenly sheen. This remarkable creamy string sound is also striking in the highly passionate Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde. From Parsifal the ceremonial character of the opening to the Good Friday Music is impressively drawn. Thielemann conveys a compelling sense of mystery and reveals a sense of disquiet. The incandescent strings are on inspired form. Imperturbable in its crucial role, the reedy sounding oboe is quite magnificently played. The final work is the Prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. This has a biting vitality as well as dramatic weight. Thielemann’s approach to rhythm and tempi reminded me of 1940s vintage Furtwängler.
Recorded by Austrian Radio the orchestra is realistically captured with the sound being bright, extremely clear and splendidly balanced. Some audience noise can be heard although it is not intrusive. Applause has been retained.