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Max BRUCH (1838-1920)
Die Loreley (1860-63)
Michaela Kaune (soprano) – Lenore
Magdalena Hinterdobler (soprano) – Bertha
Danae Kontora (soprano) – Winzerin
Thomas Mohr (tenor) – Pfalzgraf Otto
Benedikt Eder (baritone) -Leupold
Jan-Hendrik Rootering (bass-baritone) – Reinald
Thomas Hamberger (bass-baritone) – Archbishop
Sebastian Campione (bass) - Hubert
Prague Philharmonic Choir
Munich Radio Orchestra/Stefan Blunier
rec. 2014, Prinzregentheater, Munich
Full texts and translations included
CPO 777 005-2 [3 CDs: 143:06]

Max Bruch began work on his opera Die Loreley in 1860 when he was in his early 20s. It occupied him for several years but he was still only 25 when it was completed and premièred in Mannheim. Emanuel Geibel’s text had been intended for Mendelssohn but he was able to compose only three small sections before his death, and this was both an inspiration and a burden to Bruch. Nevertheless Clara Schumann, who attended the premiere, as did Anton Rubinstein, Joachim Raff and Hermann Levi, wrote admiringly of the work to Bruch’s teacher, Ferdinand Hiller.

Die Loreley embodies the well-known theme of the invocation of the Rhine spirits by the central character, Lenore, to revenge herself on a treacherous lover. Bruch wrote a four-act opera of which the second is the taut invocation scene. He balances recitatives and arias and ensembles in a conventional but apt way and gives plenty of scenic work to the orchestra. As one would expect of Bruch, his music is youthfully lyrico-dramatic. The introduction to the work is full of just the kind of idyllic bloom one would hope for, rather beautifully orchestrated, and sets the stage for the songs, bucolic ensemble choruses and narrative recitatives to come. Lenore herself opens her account with a lovely song, languid and liquid and burnished with romanticism - true innocence. And then there is a choral Ave Maria, a scherzo-like vintner scene, raucous and fresh, with pirouetting winds.

The passionate scena of Act II, in which Lenore casts her bridal ring into the Rhine, is one of the work’s vortex points, a laudable example of Bruch’s instinct for drama and stormy outburst. The third act meanwhile opens in resplendent style, with a kind of religiose choral introduction before Lenore begins to weave her spell – from radiant romance, with a sting in its tail, to a more escalating seductive allure. From a despairing Cavatina to a penitent aria, from colourful orchestration to the work’s most robust feature, which is the splendid succession of choruses, Die Loreley is consistently enjoyable. For his final act Bruch unveils another wine song swiftly followed by an adagio aria of regret, a choral De Profundis and an opportunity for the love-and-lust besotted Palgrave Otto to go out on a note of full-on berserk Romantic glory; which he duly does in a spectacular act of suicide. The more he rants the more Lenore de-colours her tone. It’s fortunate that these two are strongly characterised, albeit in rather obvious form, as the jilted Bertha is little more than a cipher.

The orchestral and choral forces – the latter the Prague Philharmonic Choir – perform with admirable vitality. If there are stretches when the Munich Radio Orchestra is not quite at its supportive best then that may be down to some of the orchestral writing being ancillary to the vocal. The singers are well matched. Michaela Kaune is a creditably intense Lenore and conveys her wildly swinging feelings without squally histrionics. Thomas Mohr is a youthful Palgrave, a tenor to hiss and yet, secretly perhaps, to admire. He is hardly called upon to demonstrate a kaleidoscope of emotions. The other roles are taken with confidence and technical skill.

The triumphant surge of the Spirits summons up Weber and Mendelssohn; the orchestration can suggest Schumann in symphonic form, as well. It would be handy to reduce the work to Rhine-wine-love-Spirits, though that is largely what the plot is, but it would be better to endorse Bruch’s choice of material. He brings a prodigious flair to the music and if it is too repetitious – too many bucolic flagons on the go, too many songs, especially quasi-ironic ones on the theme of virtue - there’s no doubting the vitality of the music, the generosity of the writing, and the theatricality of the result.

Jonathan Woolf



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