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Stokowski's WAGNER Die Walküre: Wotan's Farewell and Magic Fire Music Tristan and Isolde: Symphonic Synthesis Parsifal: Symphonic Synthesis from Act III Matthias Bamert conducts the BBC Philharmonic CHANDOS CHAN 9686 [63:48]




A commentator once said of Wagner: "there are some glorious five minutes but also some tedious half hours" - a view I can testify having more than once, in my student years (too long ago), standing at the back of the stalls at Covent Garden through performances of The Ring. Stokowski's tone poems, after Wagner, are an ideal solution for those who prefer those glorious five minutes; and for those who prefer orchestral music. (They know not what they are missing!)

In his early recordings of music from Wagner's operas, he occasionally used Lawrence Tibbett (look out for a review of the new biography of this tempestuous American singer on this site soon). Tibbett sang in Wotan's Farewell and Magic Fire Music for a set of 78s made in 1934. The alternative purely orchestral version is heardon this album. Wotan has punished his favourite daughter for protecting the illicit romance between brother and sister, Siegmund and Sieglinde. Wotan threatens to put Brünnhilde into a deep sleep but she pleads with him to encircle her with a ring of fire that only a hero can penetrate. Bamert does Loge's (the God of Fire) work very well in creating the flames that lick angrily around and rise above Brünnhilde as she lies waiting her release by her hero Siegfried who here sounds as lumbering as he is beefy.

Listeners are warned that listening is best experienced with headphones.  The cavernous acoustic of New Broadcasting House seems to soak up the sound so that one has to turn up the sound levels only to be blasted out of one's seat by the occasional huge dynamic.

The Tristan and Isolde Symphonic Synthesis is a considerable work of nearly 32 minutes duration. After the Prelude closes, Stokoswki has incorporated an extended selection of music from all three acts including the 'Liebesnacht' (Night of Love) from Act II and the passage in Act III where the dying Tristan sings of his longing for Isolde. The Synthesis closes with, of course, the Liebestod. Stokowski was a master of string sound and he allocates much of the vocal material to the cello section and to the violins, thus making the sonorities even more voluptuous especially when the strings follow his request for 'free-bowing' as the BBC Philharmonic players do here. Now I worry that familiarity with this music, especially the Liebestod has affected my critical faculties but even after listening to this CD two or three times I feel that this performance should have left me more shaken and stirred. It sounds powerful enough but the passion does not grip me as much as I think it should.

Bamert's Parsifal music fares better It is impressive and moving enough but stops just short of provoking those shivers. For his synthesis, Stokowski drew music from Act III of Wagner's opera embracing the action where Parsifal finds the land of the Holy Grail and includes the Transformation Scene with its tolling bells and procession of knights sounding quite magnificent.

An enterprising programme but sometimes too careful, and tepid.


Ian Lace

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Ian Lace

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