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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 7 in E major, WAB 107 (1884/5, Edition Robert Haas 1944) [69.58]
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Das Liebesmahl der Apostel, Eine biblische Szene für Männerstimmen und großes Orchester, WWV 69 (1843) [29.47]
Staatskapelle Dresden/Christian Thielemann
rec. live, 2 September 2012 Semper Oper, Dresden (Bruckner); 18 May 2013 Frauenkirche, Dresden (Wagner), Germany
Full German texts provided with English translations
Edition Staatskapelle Dresden - Volume 38
PROFIL PH15013 [69.58 + 29.47]

This exciting release of the celebrated and the little known contains live Dresden accounts of the Bruckner Symphony No. 7 from the Semper Oper and Wagner’s Das Liebesmahl der Apostel recorded at the Frauenkirche where the work was premièred in 1843. Both works were key milestones of Christian Thielemann's inaugural season at the Staatskapelle Dresden in 2012/13.

It has become the tradition at Dresden for Thielemann to open each season with a Bruckner symphony. He marked his inaugural year in September 2012 by selecting Symphony No. 7 using the Robert Haas Edition (1944). Composed in 1881/83 this is one of the best known of all Bruckner’s symphonies. It brought the composer the greatest success he had known. It was Arthur Nikisch who conducted the première in Leipzig in 1884.

Thielemann is nothing if not gripping and there's a considerable spirituality about what we hear that can leave a powerful effect on the listener. The opening movement is one of riveting intensity as well as a glorious sense of expectation. In the Adagio there's a concentrated quasi-sacred atmosphere that makes the hair prickle on the back of the neck. Impressively sprung rhythms are the foundation of the Scherzo together with ideal forward momentum. Decisive and committed in the Finale everything feels clean and vibrant. The climaxes are remarkable with Thielemann perceptively building up the tension from hushed passages to furious crescendos. In a work that can stand and fall by the brass playing everything is full and firmly focused with an especially glorious sound from the Wagner tubas. The audience applause has been removed from this live recording and there is little extraneous noise. In the catalogue there are a number of excellent accounts of the symphony and with this outstanding live performance Thielemann and his Staatskapelle demonstrate that they are more than a match for any of the competition.

Thielemann’s first Dresden season 2012/13 also coincided with the anniversary of Wagner’s two hundredth birthday. As both music director at Bayreuth and principal conductor of the Staatskapelle, Thielemann arranged a series of special commemorative Wagner concerts and operas. I attended one of those bicentennial events: a Gala Concert at the Semper Opera on the eve of Wagner’s birthday. Thielemann elected to conduct the Staatskapelle in a programme of Wagner overtures and great tenor opera scenes sung by Jonas Kaufmann.

Another of these celebratory events was a performance at the rebuilt Frauenkirche of Wagner’s rarely heard Das Liebesmahl der Apostel (The Holy Supper of the Apostles). Wagner was Kapellmeister of the Royal Court of Saxony in Dresden and director of the Dresden Liebesmahl, the leading male choral society in the city. He wrote Liebesmahl to mark the hundredth anniversary of the completion of the original baroque Lutheran Frauenkirche. The work is in two main sections and Wagner used his own texts based on the events surrounding the feast of Pentecost. The choral forces are in groups positioned at various points in the church including on a large platform in the nave and the great cupola. Some years after its composition, Wagner described Liebesmahl as “a sort of folkloric miracle play.” For the present performance the Staatskapelle was joined by seven male choirs from Dresden, Leipzig, Brno and Prague. There was also a special ensemble of twelve bass singers representing the apostles. In addition to a large orchestra, Thielemann’s male choral forces are two-hundred strong, a substantial number but far smaller than the twelve hundred singers Wagner had assembled for its 1843 Frauenkirche première.

There is much impressively unified singing in the Liebesmahl from the combined male choirs who have clearly been impeccably drilled by their respective chorus masters. I especially enjoyed the section when the twelve basses as the apostles join in cautioning over the antipathy they and the disciples will face as they spread the Gospel. Another highlight is the ‘voices from above’ section promising spiritual comfort for those who spread the word of God. When the orchestra enters the results are breathtaking. Having attended several concerts in the Frauenkirche it is no surprise that the acoustics of this stone-built space are highly reverberant. Thielemann does a sterling job bringing his orchestral and choral forces together so proficiently. At the conclusion the audience applause has been left in together with an annoying ultra quick ‘bravo!’ from a wayward audience member.

Profil are using recordings of live radio transmissions by broadcaster MDR Figaro from the excellent Semper Opera acoustics and the more challenging properties of Frauenkirche. The engineers provide good clarity and a pleasingly consistent level of sound which is remarkably well balanced given the challenges presented by the Frauenkirche. As I have come to expect in this series Profil has presented this set extremely well enclosing a seventy-eight page booklet containing several interesting and informative essays and pictures. I am pleased to report that full German texts are provided with English translations in the booklet.

Given memorable performances Bruckner and Wagner devotees should not hesitate over this most impressive release.

Michael Cookson

 

 




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