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Richard WAGNER (1813-83)
Concert Overtures
Concert Overture No. 1 in D minor (1831) [7.25]
Concert Overture No. 2 in C (1832, revised 1873) [9.10]
König Enzio, incidental music (1832): Overture [8.15]
Die Feen (1833): Overture [11.18]
Das Liebesverbot (1835): Overture [8.39]
Christopher Columbus, incidental music (1835): Overture [7.26]
Siegfried Idyll (1870) [19.39]
MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra/Jun Märkl
rec. 2011/12, MDR Studio Augustplatz, Leipzig
NAXOS 8.573414 [71:52]

This is not a collection of Wagner Overtures of the type often encountered in the LP era and occasionally on CD even today. Those collections typically consisted of overtures, preludes and incidental pieces from the mature operas. This Naxos disc offers us – with the obvious exception of Siegfried Idyll – apprentice works of the composer’s youth. The earliest works recorded here received their first performances no later than 1832.

Yet here is much fine music. The Concert Overture No. 1, with its echoes of Beethoven and Weber, brings drama. The Overture to König Enzio was part of the incidental music which Wagner wrote for Ernst Raupach’s stage tragedy of the same name, which relates Enzio’s attempted rescue by his wife (an obvious, if unintended, parallel with Beethoven’s only opera, Fidelio). Of this music, only the overture has survived and, in contrast to the first Concert Overture, the mood of the piece is noble yet often sombre and serious with a quiet ending.

Theodor Apel’s Christopher Columbus was another stage work for which Wagner wrote incidental music but, again, only the impressively brass-dominated Overture, creating a feeling of a heroic voyage, has reached posterity. Das Leibesverbot was Wagner’s second opera and was based on Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure. On hearing the vital Overture, one is struck almost immediately by the prominent and imaginative use of the castanets to create a ‘Mediterranean’ atmosphere, aided by tambourine and triangle.

It is only in comparison with Wagner’s astonishingly original and imaginative mature works that the early works on this disc sound in any way ordinary. Even if he had never written the later works, one could easily believe that the early compositions would still be occasionally performed and Wagner would be remembered as a minor but interesting composer.

A review of this recording in another publication dismisses this performance of Siegfried Idyll in one or two brief sentences, almost without explanation. I thought it deserved more consideration than that and so – perhaps unfairly – compared it with a famous predecessor: Bruno Walter’s 1935 recording with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (my copy was accessed from the EMI/Warner boxed set Bruno Walter – The Early Recordings but it’s also been released on Opus Kura – review). It must be acknowledged that Walter, aided by the uniquely pliant and responsive playing of his pre-war orchestra, captures the surging passion, tenderness and occasional drama of the score wonderfully. Yet Märkl and the MDR Orchestra, while clearly in second place, are by no means without romantic feeling in their performance and the orchestral execution is exemplary.

Still, one would not purchase this disc for Siegfried Idyll. It’s in the early repertoire that this production comes into its own with vital conducting that seems well inside the idiom conveyed in orchestral playing that has warmth, substance, responsiveness and precision.

Naxos’s sound, too, is warm and well balanced and Katy Hamilton’s comprehensive and informative notes complement the production. Recommended not just for Wagnerites who want to hear some of their hero’s earlier work but also for any jaded listener who may crave something worthwhile off the beaten track.

Rob W McKenzie

Previous review: Paul Corfield Godfrey



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