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Kirsten Flagstad sings Wagner & Strauss
24 Oct 2010

Kirsten Flagstad sings Wagner & Strauss

Kirsten Flagstad’s voice remains connected to the music of Richard Wagner through the recordings that continue to bring her performances to new audiences.

Kirsten Flagstad sings Wagner & Strauss

Kirsten Flagstad, soprano, Orchester der Städtischen Oper Berlin, Heorges Sebastian, conductor.

Audite 23.416 [2CDs]

$18.99  Click to buy

This new Audite release makes available live performances from 9 May and 11 May 1952, when the singer had already achieved international recognition. In these performances Flagstad reprised her portrayal of Isolde in two exceprts from Tristan und Isolde, “Isolde’s Narrative” from the first act and the “Liebestod” from the third. In addition to this music by Wagner, the recording also includes the Wesendonck-Lieder. The second disc of the set is devoted to music by Richard Strauss, specifically the last three of the composer’s Vier letzte Lieder and the monologue “Orest, Orest” from the opera Elektra. In all these excerpts she is accompanied by the Orchester der Städtischen Oper Berlin, conducted by Georges Sebastian.

The excerpts from Tristan offer a classic reading of the music by a performer who is legendary for her affinity with this opera and others by Wagner. The command of the line emerges readily in the examples, which are set up by a solid performance of the famous Prelude. With “Isolde’s Narrative,” Flagstad gives remarkable shape to the lengthy retelling of Isolde’s story prior to leaving with Tristan to be married to his uncle, King Mark. The narration has a dramatic point, as Flagstad leads the listeners into the music through her compelling phrasing and fine style. With the “Liebestod,” the lament of the bereft Isolde over the body of Tristan, the sense of unity and detachment emerges almost effortlessly in Flagstand's interpretation.

Less familiar is Flagstad’s interpretation of Wagner’s song cycle, the Wesendonck-Lieder, which makes use of Felix Mottl’s orchestration. The performance has no problems, but in her approach to this cycle, some passages seem to be overstated. This is not to detract from the result, which is that of a fine Wagnerian approaching an important set of songs in the Romantic repertoire. In fact, Flagstad seems more comfortable with the three songs she performed from Strauss’s Vier letzte Lieder, the third, second and fourth songs of the set. Flagstad’s approach is soaring, as if the music were composed for her, and the fluid accompaniment of Sebastian supports her efforts in this recording. Likewise, Flagstad is comfortable in the title role of Elektra, and her delivery of the monologue gives a sense of her approach to this character, which stands apart from the Wagnerian heroines customarily associated with Flagstad.

The final selection is the “Immolation” scene from Götterdämmerung, a role which Flagstad renders well. Her convincing delivery and solid phrasing demonstrate the reputation Flagstad has for the role of Brünnhilde, and the delivery here, out of the context of a opera house, still has a dynamic and commanding quality. As familiar as this music is, the track is persuasive and offers a fine concert performance to appreciate alongside Flagstad’s other recordings of this scene.

The sound is resonant and full in this Audite release which, as indicate in the accompanying booklet is based on original recording tapes. In fact, the details of this release confirm the fine effort extended to create a high-quality recording of these performances. In addition, the book contains the full text and translations of the vocal selections. The essay by Jürgen Kesting offers some useful perspectives on Flagstad’s performances in this recording.

James L. Zychowicz

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