Cover art design in those days was an integral part of excitement and appeal of purchasing classical music recordings. No more. Orchestras make exponentially fewer recordings than they once did, and when one is produced, the cover is likely to be similar to the one Deutsche Grammophon provides for a recent CD of Franz-Welser Möst conducting the Cleveland Orchestra in Wagner preludes and overtures, with Marsha Brueggersoman as soloist in the Wesendock-Lieder. The cover photograph has the boyish conductor holding aloft the smiling singer’s hand before standing members of the orchestra. This is also Deutsche Grammophon’s only clear cover notice that the performance was recorded live. Unfortunately, the perfunctory nature of the packaging is all too indicative of the musical performance within.
Welser-Möst’s conducting tends to veer from abrupt interventionism (highlighting an odd orchestral detail or opting for an unexpected tempo adjustment) to passages of skilled but staid professionalism. The disc opens with the Rienzi overture. The clear, crisp recorded sound allows the listener to share in Welser-Möst’s sudden interest in this wind figure here, or the string accompaniment there. Ultimately, the key to a great performance of this overture should be the ability for the nobility of the main tune to sweep away the listener into vaguely tragic-heroic reveries. That quality Welser-Möst cannot produce.
The Tristan und Isolde selections lack sensuality, and though the Lohengrin preludes are immaculately performed, they are cold in effect. Even the closing Ride of the Valkyries evokes technical admiration without getting the blood racing.
Vocal enthusiasts may opt for the disc solely for the roughly 20 minutes of Marsha Brueggergosman’s elegant performance of the Wesendonck-Lieder. Her tone is rich but never hooty, and she has complete security throughout her range.
An original and imaginative cover couldn’t make the overall impact of this CD any greater. Those with deep collections might break out their Wagner overture and prelude sets conducted by Dorati, or Tennstedt, or Klemperer, or...