Das Rheingold – Immer ist Undank Loges Lohn
Die Walküre – Ein Schwert verhiess mir der Vater; Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond
Parsifal – Prelude to Act I and extended excerpts from Acts II & III
Poul Elming (tenor)
Nina Pavlovski (soprano)
Sten Byriel (bass)
Odense Symphony Orchestra
Recorded 10-16 June 2005 & 19-21 June 2006 in the Carl Nielsen Hall, Odense, Denmark
Reviewed by: Richard Nicholson
Reviewed: August 2007
CD No: DANACORD DACOCD 664
Duration: 75 minutes
Poul Elming spent the first ten years of his career in Denmark singing roles of the lyric baritone Fach before re-studying as a tenor and making a second debut at Copenhagen’s Royal Opera in the role of Parsifal, extended excerpts from which form the bulk of this CD. He became the Siegmund and Parsifal of choice in Bayreuth, Berlin and other international opera houses for a number of years, though his career has tailed off in the current century. Danacord recorded this material in 2005 and 2006.
The recital opens with passages from the first two evenings of the ‘Ring’ cycle. The part of Loge in “Das Rheingold” is normally given to a character tenor. His account of the mission he has undertaken on Wotan’s behalf, seeking to find a way out of the bargain the latter has struck with the giants, needs little lyrical singing but relies on subtlety in conveying Loge’s ironic detachment. Loge is a mercurial character and the passage here recorded is conversational, with much of the definition given by the orchestra, which creates a running commentary on his account with a string of leitmotifs. Elming has some trouble subduing his beefy voice and hardly points the words. Though he conveys the Fire God’s self-pity at the start of his ‘Narration’, the irony of his going native in sympathising with the Rhinemaidens’ appeal for justice escapes him.
Siegmund’s solo scene from Act One of “Die Walküre” is sung as it would be in a complete performance, on a limited scale so as not to pre-empt the full outburst of passion to come in the scene with Sieglinde at the end of the act. On its own, at this level, it lacks impact. The tendency to understatement persists in ‘Winterstürme’, which has little sense of ecstasy but a niggling inclination to stretch up to the higher notes.
After the hors d’oeuvre, the main course: “Parsifal”, 61 minutes of it. A measured performance of the Act One Prelude is followed by the confrontation of Parsifal and Kundry in Act Two. Elming is not the first baritone-turned-tenor to sing Parsifal: Lauritz Melchior, Set Svanholm, Ramon Vinay, and James King appear among those who have recorded the role, commercially or unofficially.
Kundry has also been the province of mezzo-sopranos, despite Wagner’s allocation of the role to the soprano voice: recorded Kundrys include Rita Gorr, Christa Ludwig, Irene Dalis, Yvonne Minton, Waltraud Meier and Eva Randova, while Dunja Vejzovic, Violeta Urmana and Gwyneth Jones began their careers as mezzo-sopranos before graduating to soprano roles.
The tessitura of both roles is predominantly low but with excursions around and above the stave when text and dramatic situation demand it. Kundry’s “Ich sah das Kind” descends several times to a low C and once to an A. For the tenor, even in the anguished passage “Amfortas, die Wunde” the highest note is an A flat. The pressure on the upper range is not relentless, as it is for example in the role Of Erik in “Der fliegende Holländer”. Elming offers vocally the cutting edge of a real Heldentenor in recognising the destructiveness of the erotic (“Qual der Liebe”) and dismissing Kundry (“Verderberin, weiche von mir! Ewig, ewig von mir!”). I do hear signs of tiring in the final pages of the act, however – his voice rings out more clearly in the Act Three utterances.
Dramatically, years of experience in performing the part are audible in the consistent way in which he conveys the complete transformation in his understanding which Kundry’s kiss has brought about.
He seems to be inspired by his partner, Nina Pavlovksi, who provides the most memorable singing on this issue. The voice has the weight and substance needed to make the low-lying passages tell while at the top she sounds like a budding spinto soprano, so there is none of the shrieking of which the mezzo interpreters of the part can fall foul.
Pavlovski is very effective in presenting Kundry’s developing strategy. She almost whispers her initial blandishments to Parsifal, with soft attack and melting phrasing, only hinting at the pressure to come. She wheedles her way into his consciousness (and conscience) in the passage about his mother, before offering him absolution through love. Her growing hysteria as her appeals find no response is conveyed at all times musically; a pity she cannot resist the traditional conversion of her last cry to a high B.
The conducting of Wolf-Dieter Hauschild suggests that he is a fine Wagnerian. He excels in the big moments but also in the chamber-music textures in a passage such as that which accompanies Parsifal’s picturing of how Amfortas must have been seduced. He can also maintain the flow of a lengthy Wagnerian scene admirably.
The CD is a useful souvenir of Poul Elming and something more than that in the cases of soprano and conductor. The booklet includes the German texts but they have been subject to numerous errors. The printed timing of 77’06” should be two minutes less and the recording is excellent.