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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Der Fliegende Holländer
Terje Stensvold – Holländer (baritone)
Anjam Kampe – Senta (soprano)
Christopher Ventris – Erik (tenor)
Kwangchul Youn – Daland (bass)
Russell Thomas – Steersman (tenor)
Jane Henschel – Mary (mezzo)
Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks, WRD Rundfunkchor Köln, NDR Chor
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Andris Nelsons
rec. live, Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, 24, 26 May 2013
RCO LIVE RCO14004 [61:24 + 74:33]

I found this a very surprising Dutchman, confounding my expectations at several turns. For one thing, with Andris Nelsons at the helm I had been expecting an interpretation so vigorous and fired-up that you’d be able to smell the sea salt. In fact what struck me most of all in his reading was its lyricism and poetry. Yes, the storm scenes are exciting but what really took off was the gentleness of Senta’s ballad and the great Act 2 duet between Senta and the Dutchman. Perhaps he had been tamed by the luscious strings of the Concertgebouw, who sound sensational here. Every semi-quaver is beautifully articulated and precisely enunciated, but there is a long-breathed grandeur to the sound that positively glows in the resonant acoustic. It makes you dream of how this band might sound if they were in the opera pit more regularly. Nelsons has plenty to say about the score, and he lingers on its very final chord very enticingly, but there wasn’t much about his reading that made me catch fire, for all the beauty of its sound. It’s capable but not revelatory.

Many of the singers surprised me too, but not always in a good way. I was expecting Kwangchul Youn to sing the socks off everyone else on stage, but in fact he comes across as somewhat unsteady at the start, and only settles into the role gradually — and even then, far from triumphantly. Christopher Ventris is a lyrical but unexciting Erik, whose remonstrations with Senta aren’t interesting, for all that he comes alive in the dream scene of the second act. Terje Stensvold, who I’ve come across previously only in passing, doesn’t have the titanic voice that the role requires. In fact, his great monologue in the first act doesn’t pass an awful lot of muster. For all the excitement that Nelsons generates on the podium, the turbulence of Wie oft in Meeres and the tenderness of Dich frage ich are beyond him. Jane Henschel sounds sadly spent as Mary.

Only Anja Kampe lived up to some of the high expectations I had of the set. She sound electric as Senta, from the gamut of emotions in the ballad, through to her fanatical devotion to the Dutchman’s cause. She also sings with more beauty than anyone else in the set, even though she is no Anja Silja in this role. Thanks primarily to her, the great duet of Act 2, Wie aus der Ferne is the highlight of the set, moving from inward reflection through to riveting excitement.

The other great assets of the set are the three choruses, who sound fantastic. The women are magical in the second act when they join in Senta’s ballad, and the men, in particular, have a rollicking time as they slice through the sea shanties with tremendous vigour.

I won’t be coming back to this CD before other favourites, though: Sinopoli’s now classic DG set is still the one for me, while Klemperer, Janowski and Sawallisch also present worthy alternatives; Minkowski, too, for novelty reasons. For those who are interested in such things, by the way, Nelsons performs a hybrid of versions: Act 1 has a concert ending, but Acts 2 and 3 are run together without a break. The booklet includes biographies plus full texts and translations.

Simon Thompson


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