Wagner: Preludes, Overtures & Lieder (CD review)

Measha Brueggergosman, soprano; Franz Welser-Most, the Cleveland Orchestra. DG 477 8773.

I'm not overly fond of most record albums comprised of bits and pieces of things, but given the length of most of Wagner's operas, it's sometimes the most-convenient way to present his music. Here, we have a program of Wagner preludes, overtures, and lieder taken from a live concert performed by maestro Franz Welser-Most, soprano Measha Brueggergosman, and the Cleveland Orchestra, which audiences apparently welcomed enthusiastically.

Things get off to an exhilarating start with the Overture to Rienzi, all bouncy spectacle and grandiose gestures. Welser-Most and his Cleveland players seem to delight in the music's martial pomp, marches, prancing steeds, and all.

Next, we move into an entirely different musical world with the Act I Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde. Although I prefer Otto Klemperer's more-heroic approach (EMI), George Szell's more-searing performance (Sony), Bernard Haitink's more-levelheaded rendition (Philips), and even Herbert von Karajan's more-glamorized readings (DG and EMI), there is an effectively romantic-erotic air about Welser-Most's interpretation, with a good deal of pathos thrown in. However, the conductor, to his credit, never exaggerates or sentimentalizes the music.

After the Tristan und Isolde music we get the Preludes to Acts I and III of Lohengrin. It's another change-up in mood, from the eloquent love themes of Tristan to the more-rambunctious, fairy-tale atmosphere of Lohengrin, with all its shifting colors and moods. In this music, Welser-Most seems in something of a hurry to create excitement rather than let it develop on its own, but they are still enchanting realizations.

Then soprano Measha Brueggergosman steps in to the sing the five Wesendonck Lieder. According to her, "the most beauteous asset" of Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder is "their perfectly luxurious simplicity." The songs are lovely, to be sure, and Ms. Brueggergosman sings them with a fluid, cultured grace, the closing song, "Traume" ("Dreams"), most tranquil yet most melancholy.

The program concludes with two rousers: the Prelude to Act I of Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg and "The Ride of the Valkyries" from Die Walkure. In both pieces, Welser-Most appears more concerned with the intellectual qualities of the music than with the purely theatrical melodrama of the action. I would have preferred the latter, but it's a matter of taste.

DG made their recording live in Severance Hall, Cleveland, Ohio, in February, 2010. It seems to be all the big labels are doing lately is recording live, what with the costs of recording full orchestras so high. Of course, the companies would say they record live to capture the energy and spontaneity of the moment. Whatever. The sound here is fairly warm and soft, with a wide dynamic range but only modest impact.  Inner detailing is a bit subdued, stage depth somewhat wanting, the bass end shy, and the high-end lacking sparkle. In its favor, the sound is easy on the ear for music than can easily tend toward the bombastic, and it's room filling and immersive, too. Finally, we can be grateful the audience remains quiet, at least until the very end of the concert when they erupt into applause.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa