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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Orchestral Excerpts - Vol. 3
Tannhäuser (1843, rev.1861): Overture and Venusberg Music [22.35]
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (1868): Act Three Prelude, Dance of the Apprentices and Entry of the Masters [12.05]
Tristan und Isolde (1865): Act One Prelude, Brangaene’s Warning, Act Three Prelude and Liebestod [28.46]*
Alessandra Marc (soprano)*
Seattle Symphony Orchestra/Gerard Schwarz
rec. Seattle Opera House, March 1986 and February 1992*
NAXOS 8.572769 [62.26]

Experience Classicsonline

Naxos has reissued a number of recordings from the excellent Delos label, many of which are very fine both technically and musically. This Wagner release is the third and final volume of orchestral excerpts from Wagner’s operas - vols 1 and 2 reviewed here. I haven’t heard the first two issues in the series but it’s not easy to be especially positive about what’s on offer here. There’s nothing much wrong with the standard of playing by the Seattle orchestra but there is a serious lack of fire and passion. The overture to Tannhauser sounds like a rather uninterested run-through, especially from the brass. The monumental grandeur you find in the performance by the Philharmonia under Klemperer, for example, is nowhere to be heard in Seattle. The trombone entry, especially, just doesn’t have any sort of dignity or gravitas. My own personal preference is to hear the complete overture but what we have here is the truncated version including the Venusberg Music. At least this is despatched with a little more élan. The 1986 recording is decent enough, with warm strings and a pleasant glow around the full orchestra but it does sound a wee bit cramped and confined in the louder passages.
These comments about the sound quality also apply to the second item from 1986, the Meistersinger “suite”, for the want of a better word. There is little point in being a purist when listening to Wagnerian bleeding chunks. The 12 minute selection recorded here starts with the Act III Introduction, played to a good, professional standard (no more than that) but missing the full-bodied romantic passion and rapture it deserves. The string playing isn’t committed enough or motivated enough to produce a sensual Wagner sound. The Dance of the Apprentices is somewhat better with nicely pointed winds and a feeling of freshness about it. Maybe this outgoing, lively music is more suited to the psyche of Schwarz and his orchestra. The Procession of the Mastersingers finds the brass in more inspired form but leaves you wishing that the full overture had been included instead.
The Tristan sessions are from 1992 and the soundstage is more open and three dimensional. Woodwind intonation is occasionally suspect (octaves sometimes producing a beat) but other than that the orchestral playing is generally fine. The string playing in the Prelude is far more romantic and full bodied than it was in the 1986 recordings. Unfortunately the overall level of musicianship isn’t really good enough when compared to some of the outstanding big name the catalogue. Klemperer - one of my own favourite interpreters in Wagner and Beethoven - and Karajan are in a different league. The soprano Alessandra Marc possesses a sweet, delicate sounding voice with a well-controlled vibrato but she also has the tendency to sing sharp. This is compounded by the forward balance she is given by the engineers, totally covering the string details in Brangaene’s Warning and putting her right in front of the orchestra in the Liebestod.
What we have here is a decent enough CD at the price but it can’t really compete with the best. Buying it would be a false economy.  

John Whitmore

See also reviews by Paul Godfrey and Byzantion

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