Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra: Herbert von Karajan: vocal soloists
DG 480 6977: 2CD TPT: 153’55”
Hans Knappertsbusch conducts Wagner: selections
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra: Hans Knappertsbusch
DECCA 480 7093: 2CD: TPT: 154’28”
reviewed by Neville Cohn
Beethoven wasn’t above double dealing by selling the same composition to more than one publisher, Gesualdo was a double murderer, Mascagni was an enthusiastic fascist – and Lully ruthlessly trashed the reputations of others as he clawed his way to eminence at the French royal court. But for sheer awfulness, Wagner was in a class of his own.
A serial adulterer, incorrigibly vain, an embezzler, an anarchist, an instinctive ingrate and anti-Semite, he was also a genius. And in this 200th anniversary year of his birth, there are celebrations worldwide to mark this milestone. And in a series of releases in Universal Music’s Eloquence series, Cyrus Meher-Homji has once again done CD enthusiasts proud by pulling a series of splendid musical rabbits out of his hat. One cannot too highly praise these initiatives whereby top ranking recordings, most often originally available on LP, are reissued on CD at competitive prices. They constitute a cornucopia of Wagnerian delights.
For those who prefer to listen to The Ring in small doses as opposed to experiencing the work in full, they could hardly do better than a quite superb 2-CD pack – DGG 480 6977 – featuring von Karajan presiding over singers and the Berlin Philharmonic.
Originally recorded in 1968 and 1970, it makes for frankly riveting listening. More often than not, sound quality is exceptional. Throughout, Karajan, as ever loyal to the printed note, does wonders in eliciting some of the most sheerly satisfying performances from a bevy of Wagnerian stars that one might ever hope to encounter.
Bouquets aplenty to the sound engineers who have done wonders in capturing the Berlin Philharmonic sound. If you purchase no other recordings this year, you will have done yourself proud to have these performances in your record library. Not the least of its many pleasures, is the often exceptional clarity of diction.
Hans Knappertsbusch – known to colleagues simply as Kna – didn’t get on well with that lifelong Wagner fan Adolph Hitler. The latter detested Knappertsbusch’s conducting style and avoided his performances. The loss was his for Knappertsbusch, when on form, did wonders on the podium and he has left a substantial recorded music legacy. He famously disliked lengthy rehearsals, preferring a minimum of preparation. Instead, he endeavoured always to obtain a sense of spontaneity from his players, a risky attitude that occasionally resulted in embarrassment. But when his players were on their mettle, the result could be most rewarding – very!
None of these misfires are in this compilation of Wagner orchestral highlights from not only The Ring but also Flying Dutchman, Tannhauser, Parsifal and Tristan und Isolde. Here are beautifully gauged, finely paced, unhurried, deeply meaniungful accounts of perennial favourites including Flight of the Valkyries and Forest Murmurs from Siegfried – and the overture and Venusberg music from Tannhauser.
This recording, brimming with good things, is a joy.