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
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.