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Orchestral Excerpts from Wagner Operas
24 May 2006

Orchestral Excerpts from Wagner Operas

Among the plentiful selections of orchestral music from the operas of Richard Wagner, it is rare to find recordings that truly stand out, and this recent release of performances conducted by the late Klaus Tennstedt merits distinction.

Orchestral Excerpts from Wagner Operas

London Phiharmonic Orchestra, Klaus Tennstedt, conductor.

LPO 0003 [CD]

$15.99  Click to buy

Taken from the 1992 Proms concerts by the London Philharmonic, these live recordings from that season demonstrate the famed conductor’s master hand at presenting familiar works with energy and style.

The pieces included on this CD are the prelude to the opera Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg; the overtures to Rienzi and Tannhaüser, along with the “Venusberg” music from the latter opera; “Dawn and Siegfried’s Rhine Journey,” along with “Siegfried’s Funeral Music” from Götterdämmerung; and the concert version of the “Ride of the Valkyries” from Die Walküre. As familiar as these excerpts are, the performances preserved here are quite vivid and immediate with regard to the quality of the sound and, more importantly, the interpretation Tennstedt contributed to these performances.

The level of quality found in this CD is hardly unusual for Tennstedt, who left a number of solid recordings of various works that remain engaging. Most of all, Tennstedt’s legacy includes performances that are memorable for solidly musical reasons. Without resorting to artifice or innovation for its own sake, Tennstedt brought a certain vitality to familiar works like these by not sacrificing the musical line to sheer effect. At times Tennstedt would bring out details that may be less distinct in more routine performances of works like these. Yet the descending line of the upper strings at the end of the first section of the “Venusberg” music reinforces the transition to the more expressive middle section that offers a signal to the perceptive audience.

Likewise, Tennstedt’s treatment of the familiar overture to Rienzi stands out for the way in which the drama emerges in this interpretation, which is notably slower than some of the more familiar recorded versions of the piece. By approaching this overture in this manner, Tennstedt brought out some details that contribute to the sense of drama implicit in the score. The gradual crescendo toward the full orchestral statement of the principal theme is noticeable and thus highly effective. At the same time, the slower tempos help to accentuate the drum rolls that are critical for the way they suspend the pulse of the work – an effect Mahler would use to a similar end in the last movement of his Second Symphony. At the same time, the careful tempos found in this performance of the Rienzi overture allow the orchestra to shape lines. Thus, in this piece and the other examples a vocal quality emerges from these exquisite orchestral pieces from Wagner’s operas, such that the interpretations reflect the nuances that are in the score, but difficult, at times, to achieve in other circumstances.

Those familiar with Tennstedt’s fine recordings of Mahler’s symphonies will appreciate his similar command of the London Philharmonic Orchestra in these pieces by Wagner. They exhibit the level of performance mentioned in the program notes, in which the critic Hugh Canning is quoted as referring to the “exalted” quality of music-making in these performances. Released by the London Philharmonic’s own archives, this is one of the Orchestra’s own releases, and not a recording made through a commercial agency. It is laudable that the London Philharmonic has brought out such a fine set of performances that stem from a single season, rather than selections from various years which might involve some variance in execution and sound quality.

Granted, this is Wagner presented in concert and in excerpt, with the selections presented out of the context of the operas and music dramas to which they belong. Even so, performances like these have been instrumental in bringing the music to a wider audience and also in attracting audiences to the full versions of the works to which they belong. The quality of these performances certainly communicated the music effectively, as evidenced by enthusiastic applause retained in the recordings conveys the intensity in this recent release of some exceptional performances.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, Wisconsin

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