Rienzi – Overture
Tristan und Isolde – Prelude and Liebestod
Lohengrin – Preludes to Acts I & III
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg – Prelude to Act I
Die Walküre – The Ride of the Valkyries
Measha Brueggergosman (soprano)
Recorded February 2010 in Severance Hall, Cleveland
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: July 2010
CD No: DG 477 8773
Duration: 72 minutes
This is squeaky-clean Wagner, beautifully played. Lucid textures abound, Franz Welser-Möst keeping the music on the move with Classical propriety; Romantic and volatile aspects are played down, but the reading of the scores is expert and the preparation meticulous, the Cleveland Orchestra fully responsive to Welser-Möst’s penchant for clarity, interplay and discrimination. Recorded at concerts, whether this is the full programme that graced Severance Hall in February 2010 is not stated (issued in July, Deutsche Grammophon is to be congratulated on its ‘rush-release’). If “yes”, then it was a short evening; and if the pieces are here presented in concert-order then it doesn’t work, but neither would another arrangement of these particular selections.
The Overture to “Rienzi” benefits from Welser-Möst’s approach – no indulgence in the ‘prayer’ music and an avoidance of rowdiness elsewhere, brass and percussion integrated, inner detail therefore not compromised. The piccolo, which Wagner writes for with glee, is always audible but it might have cut through a little more; overall, an expressive and joyous performance. The ‘Prelude and Liebestod’ from “Tristan und Isolde” is not exactly a hot-house performance, the ‘Tristan chord’ here shaved of its potency, but there is also an eloquence that is compelling, Welser-Möst charting climaxes unerringly, sucking the listener in to the line and expectancy of the music. Surprisingly, given Measha Brueggergosman was on hand, the ‘Liebestod’ is Isolde-less; it is also without its own track, but then Welser-Möst’s conception is seamless, and transcendent, much attention paid to blend and dynamics, and all over in a non-indulged fifteen minutes.
The Act One and Three “Lohengrin” Preludes are played in reverse order, the sporty latter elating and with a ‘trio’ that is gently playful. The radiant beginning to the opera is here purely sounded, the high-lying violins no fearers of such exposure, yet such is Welser-Möst’s concern to not cosset the music that its sublime ascent is rather compromised; the climax, once again impressively graded-towards dynamically, finds the brass section’s volume and the cymbal clashes lacking refinement (unexpectedly) and the final bars are perfunctory.
When Measha Brueggergosman finally appears, in “Wesendonck-Lieder”, Wagner’s musical testimony for his (illicit) love for Mathilde (and her texts) – and studies for ‘Tristan’, some musical ideas shared – she seems to emerge from an acoustic of her own, one artificially enhanced, and certainly, and throughout, she is too dominating of the orchestra. Closely (and therefore poorly) balanced, Brueggergosman impresses with her operatic delivery, some exquisite nuances, and vivid delivery of the words. ‘Im Treibhaus’ is especially gripping. A sprightly, sometimes rushed account of the Prelude to “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg” follows (if after too short a gap, the mood of final dreaming shattered prematurely). This is a disappointing performance – unceremonious, clipped and pressured. Finally, ‘The Ride of the Valkyries’ – it had to be! – which has a nicely ‘airborne’ and striving quality as well as appealing rhythmic élan.
The recording is a little edgy, sometimes more treble than bass, and (as recorded) the strings lack a little in body. Applause is removed (save at the end of ‘Valkyries’), with added reverberation for those pieces ending loudly, and some coughs could have been air-brushed out (such renovation is easily achieved). The booklet-note is at times distastefully eulogising of these performances, and the annotation credits Felix Mottl as orchestrator of the Wesendonck settings; correct, but not the final one, ‘Träume’ (full of wonderment here), which Wagner himself scored. Reservations, yes, but good and sometimes enlightening enough to be a recommendable release.