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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Der fliegende Holländer (1843)
Overture [10.18]: Die Frist ist um [10.47]
Tannhäuser (1845)
Blick ich umher [4.42] Wie Todesanhnung [5.47]
Lohengrin (1850)
Du fürchterliches Weib! [2.50]
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (1868)
Flierdermonolog [6.21] Act Three Prelude [6.17] Wahnmonolog [7.40]
Parsifal (1882)
Ja! Wehe! Wehe! [5.58]
Die Walküre (1869)
Wotan’s Farewell and Magic Fire Music [16.19]
James Rutherford (baritone)
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/Andrew Litton
rec. Grieg Hall, Bergen, April-May 2013
texts and translations included
BIS BIS-SACD-2080 [78.44]

James Rutherford is the latest in a distinguished series of British and Anglophone Wagnerian bass-baritones to follow in the footsteps of artists such as Norman Bailey, Donald McIntyre, James Morris, Sir John Tomlinson and Bryn Terfel. This recital presents him in a generally chronologically arranged series of items concluding with the Farewell and Magic Fire Music from Die Walküre. Unfortunately the recording does not extend to the employment of any additional singers, which means that we are deprived of Amfortas’s first solo from the First Act of Parsifal which might have been preferable to the inclusion of the two purely orchestral items in the shape of the Flying Dutchman Overture and the Prelude to Act Three of Die Meistersinger. Not that there is anything wrong with the way in which these pieces are presented, but it might have been better to focus on the vocal merits of James Rutherford rather than Andrew Litton’s orchestral Wagner, efficient and exciting by turns but not a real rival to the multitude of other recordings of these items in the catalogue.

In fact Rutherford’s delivery of Amfortas’s lament over his dead father is one of the real highlights of this disc, inwardly felt although cruelly truncated just before the entry of the chorus. Indeed one or two of these excerpts are cut off rather abruptly – Wolfram’s address to the Evening Star is shorn of its long orchestral postlude, although the Fliedermonolog gains a brief coda. Hans Sachs is another role with which Rutherford feels real sympathy, and his shading of the texts during the Wahnmonolog is a model of geniality. Telramund’s brief outburst is delivered with vehemence, but sheer power is not Rutherford’s main asset and in the Farewell his opening address to Brünnhilde lacks the sheer heroic weight of his predecessors; but then his delivery Der Augen leuchtendes Paar is beautifully lyrical and inwardly felt, with superlatively delicate shading during the final bars. A controlled vibrato on sustained notes never shows any signs of degenerating into a wobble, and Rutherford thankfully never resorts to any suspicion of a ‘Bayreuth bark’ even in the most strenuous passages.

There are one of two ‘production’ touches – the notated strikes of Wotan’s spear on the rock before the Magic Fire Music – but generally these are ‘concert performances’ rather than dramatic ones. The Bergen Philharmonic are not an orchestra one would normally associate with Wagner, although their playing is sonorous if somewhat backward in the balance, definitely placed behind the singer. Andrew Litton’s conducting throughout however is proficient rather than histrionically involved, aiming for a smoothness of approach which underplays the drama during such passages as Wer meines Speeres Spitze fürchtet. One would have preferred to encounter Rutherford in more extended scenes, if not complete roles; but this disc nevertheless acts as an admirable ‘sampler’ of the work of a singer whose assumption of the Wagnerian mantle is assured and highly idiomatic.

BIS commendably supply full texts complete with English translation, and the notes come in English, German and French.

Paul Corfield Godfrey