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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Scenes from Lohengrin and Siegfried

Lohengrin, Act 3, Scenes 1 and 2 (1850) [33’33].
Siegfried, Act 1, Scene 3 (1876) [25’48].
John Horton Murray (tenor, Lohengrin, Siegfried); Margaret Jane Wray (soprano, Elsa); Adam Klein (tenor, Mime); Bolshoi Opera Chorus (Lohengrin); Russian State Symphony Orchestra/John McGlinn.
Rec. Studio No. 5, Moscow Film Studios, on May 28th-June 1st, 2001. [DDD]
NAXOS 8.555788 [59’17]

This is a generally enjoyable recital that acts as a platform for the talents of John Horton Murray, a tenor whose career has already encompassed Covent Garden, La Scala and The Met. We have the first two scenes of Act Three of Lohengrin (so why not add ‘Mein lieber Schwann’ and ‘In fernem Land’, surely the two great tenor excerpts from this opera?), followed by an offering from more mature Wagner, the third scene of Act One of Siegfried. To add to the curiosity value of this disc, the conductor of the excellent Russian State Symphony Orchestra is John McGlinn, best known in the UK for his conducting of musicals.

McGlinn is inclined to mould his tempi according to the moment a little too much, whereas Wagner writes on the larger canvas. Despite this, there is much to enjoy. The orchestra is well recorded and the violins do not sound too strained in excelsis. There is intensity to the Introduction to the Lohengrin excerpts, just not quite enough. Murray’s entrance (‘Das süsse Lied verhält’) is properly piano and sweetly-toned, but he spoils it almost immediately: the significance of ‘zum erstenmal allein’ – ‘for the first time alone’ - is not fully captured. Similarly, ‘Elsa, mein Weib!’ is more vocal narcissism than passion: Elsa herself (Margaret Jane Wray) is significantly more impressive. It is only when we arrive at ‘Atmet du nicht mit mir die süße Düfte’ that Murray becomes more impassioned. There is no doubting his ability to meet the challenges of Wagner’s more demanding passages; it is Wray who becomes shrill under pressure as she begins to beg to know her beloved’s name.

The wrench in the composer’s musical language when one is suddenly confronted with Siegfried is significant. A lot can happen in a quarter of a century, especially with regard to Wagner: in Lohengrin, the seeds of the composer’s might were inherent, surfacing from time to time; in Siegfried, his genius is manifest in every note. All goes very promisingly until the Forging Song. To begin with, Mime’s pitching is excellent, and he really does sound agitated. The orchestra flickers and flares evocatively, evoking Mime’s terror marvellously. Siegfried really does seem to enter from off-stage, and there is good dialogue between the two of them. A pity that the orchestra here verges at times on the scrappy approaching the Forging Song, but it is here at this most crucial of junctures that the tension sags most. The whole reading, in fact, is characterised by a fundamentally low-voltage approach that does Wagner’s dramatic tension no favours at all. Although Klein is impressive towards the end for his ability to sing intelligibly at high velocity, Murray’s Siegfried should surely be more jubilant at the end.

A mixed bag, then, with impressive moments unfortunately not adding up to any sort of impressive totality.

It is good that Naxos has included text and translation. Both singers’ diction is excellent, reflecting the importance of the words they sing (not a given in all Wagner performance, alas). Never do the inadequacies of these forces drown the spark of Wagner’s genius, but there are plenty of greater alternatives on the market, so unless one requires exactly these excerpts on one disc, it may be advisable to look elsewhere.

Colin Clarke

see also review by Robert Hugill

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