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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Tannhäuser: Overture and Bacchanale (Paris version) [23:01]; Dich, teure halle [5:18]
Tristan und Isolde: Prelude [11:32]; Liebestod [7:43]
Götterdämmerung: Siegfried’s Funeral March [8:01]; Immolation Scene [21:57]
# Full Performers: Heidi Melton (soprano)
Orchestra National Bordeaux Aquitaine/Paul Daniel
rec. live, L’Auditorium de Bordeaux, no date specified
ACTES SUD ASM22 [77:32]

It’s rare for me to begin a review by talking about the packaging, but in this case it’s instructive to do so. You get an attractive hardback book with the CD in a sleeve at the back. The book contains some very attractive photographs of the orchestra members, conductor and soloist, together with a full list of who is in the orchestra. However, the text is only in French: again, instructive. From my broken schoolboy French, I think I picked out that the CD was recorded to celebrate the opening of a new auditorium in Bordeaux, and that the orchestra are attempting to set down one-disc summaries of various composers’ works, with Wagner being the first instalment. Finer linguists than I, please feel free to correct me.

All of which suggests to me that the primary audience for this release will be Aquitainians who support this orchestra or who attended the concerts themselves. It enters a highly competitive field of Wagner extracts, in which it can’t really be competitive. I like Paul Daniel’s work, and he shows a good ability to build a long paragraph in the opening of the Tannhäuser overture and Siegfried’s funeral march, but the Tristan prelude plods, and the Bacchanale is a little too well behaved. Likewise, Heidi Melton sounds perfectly fine, but is a little squally at the top in places, especially as Brünnhilde and Isolde. There is nothing so grievous as to rule this disc entirely out of court, but so many other fine sopranos have set down excerpts — Jessye Norman with Karajan or Birgit Nilsson with Downes, to name but two examples — that there is really no need to settle for anything less than total excellence.

The orchestra play perfectly well, but their quality isn’t nearly as good as, say, the Philharmonia for Klemperer on EMI, or the Berliners for Karajan (on several discs on both EMI and DG), not to mention the Vienna Philharmonic for Solti. When you look at those competitors this disc really doesn’t cut the mustard. It’s for convinced fans of this orchestra only; not really for the wider audience.

Simon Thompson