DVDs / CDs November 17

Wagner: Die Walkure
Salzburg Easter Festival 2017
Staatskapelle Dresden, Christian Thielemann
UNITEL 742808

Those of us who have been attending Wagner performances now for over half a century will recall Gunther Schneider-Siemssen’s massive settings from the 1960s – none more so that the Solti Ring Cycles at the Royal Opera House.

This new release is a strange hybrid. To commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Herbert von Karajan’s opening of the first Salzburg Easter Festival with Die Walkure they have recreated Schneider-Siemssen’s sets but then added in new costumes and a new production. The second and third acts work better as the world of the gods sits more comfortably within the vast ring. Not so the first act where Peter Seiffert’s finely sung Siegmund sits rolling a cigarette before calling out to his father, very much at odds with the heavily stylised setting, which has no doors or sense of the domestic about it, dampening the intimacy of the music.

Thankfully Thielemann and his orchestra are in magnificent form and the end of act one thrills, as to many other key moments. Anja Kampe is an engaging Brunnhilde and a fine foil for the slippery Wotan of Vitalij Kowaljow. Christa Mayer’s Fricka has more to do in this production than is often the case and is only too happy to see Siegmund killed.

In the end, the compromise works, though it might have been even more interesting to have reconstructed and original production as an entity rather than in part.


Wagner: Siegfried
Hon Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, Jaap van Zweden
NAXOS 8.660413-16

This is proving to be the finest Ring cycle currently available and I can’t wait for next year’s Gotterdammerung. It is excellently sung throughout and Jaap van Zweden’s conducting is light and flexible – just what the score needs and all too often fails to get. There are many magnificent moments. I particularly enjoyed Falk Struckmann’s Fafner, who hints at the lumbering stupidity of the giant even as he roars out his contempt for Siegfried. Matthias Goerne adds the Wanderer to his earlier Wotan, with a world-weary edge which is most convincing. Valentina Farcas is a sprightly woodbird and both dwarves are incisive and nasty. At the heart of the work, Simon O’Neill brings authority to the title role as well as flexibility to the musical line which always pleases. For this recording to be available on a bargain priced label makes it all the more worth snapping up.


Lehar: Schon ist die Welt
Munchner Rundfunkorchester, Ulf Schirmer
CPO 777055-2

This was the last major work from Lehar and the most operatic. The second act is effectively through-composed, a fact which did not go down too well with some of his followers who preferred a more conventional operetta format. There are some lovely melodies however and more to enjoy here than might at first seem obvious. It is certainly worth a second hearing.

The only minor flaw is that the dual casting means you need to have an idea of the story line to ensure you know which character you are supposed to be listening to at any one time!


Silver Voice
Katherine Bryan, flute, Orchestra of Opera North, Bramwell Tovey

While there is much to enjoy here and some very fine playing I am unsure just who the audience are for this recording of operatic arias arranged for flute. The tunes range from Gershwin to Mozart and are all instantly recognisable, but am I simply being snobbish to suggest that if I wanted operatic arias I’d rather have them sung rather than played here as what comes close to background music rather than a cd I would deliberately sit down to enjoy.


Debussy: Preludes Book 1 & 2
Angela Brownridge, piano

A full recording this, with both books of Preludes plus L’Isle joyeuse. What impresses is the range and delicacy which Angela Brownridge brings to the recording, meaning that we can indulge individual pieces but equally experience the books as a whole, moving from one emotional encapsulation to another. She seems to create links with ease, enticing us even when the content is complex and challenging.

A fine recording with hopefully many more to follow.


Arturo Benedetti
ORFEO C 943171B

This recording dates from 7 August 1965 and was recorded live at the Salzburg Festival. Arturo Benedetti is at the height of his career at this time, and here performs Busoni’s arrangement of Bach’s Chaconne aus Partita BWV1004 and Beethoven’s Sonata No3 in C major Op2 No3. The quality of the recording is not an issue, and the quality of the playing radiates throughout. it may now seem a dated approach to the scores, in terms of what we have come to expect from current pianists, but the magnificence of the sound is never in doubt.


Shostakovich: The Gadfly – complete original film score
Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz, Mark Fitz-Gerald
NAXOS 8.573747

The Gadfly is best remembered today for the longer arrangement of Youth though the score as reconstructed here has a good deal of music which is equally impressive. It also draws on the full orchestral resources Shostakovich required for the film – including church bells, organ, guitars and mandolin – which are absent from the normal orchestral suite. There is also an added bonus in the inclusion of The Song of the Counterplan from the score of that name.


Mahler: Symphony No 5
Bayerischen Rundfunk symphonieorchester, Mariss Jansons

Maris Jansons finds the joy inherent in this score and brings it out time after time, lurking even in more sombre moments. The familiar Adagio has a warmth to it which carries us easily into the romp of the finale.  As with his other Mahler cds, this benefits from being a live recording with the added sense of atmosphere and tension.

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