This is the second of three volumes released by Naxos more or
less simultaneously, reanimating some oldish Delos recordings.
Leaving aside any questions regarding the point or musical validity
of orchestral 'bleeding chunks' cleft from Wagner's great operas,
previous releases in this line by Naxos date back twenty years
and now lie gathering dust in the basement - not altogether
undeservingly. Apart from countless 'best of opera'-style compilations,
there are two volumes entitled 'Orchestral Highlights from Operas'
and instrumental excerpts from The Ring on three separate discs
by different ensembles and conductors (8.550136, 8.550498, 8.550221).
More recently, Naxos Historical issued Wilhelm Furtwängler's
own recordings of Wagner orchestral highlights (8.111348,
8.110997), and although these are better with regard to performance,
in all cases sound quality is below par.
Unfortunately a quick skim through these Gerard Schwarz recordings
identifies similar technical shortcomings. Sound is not bad
exactly. There is pretty good stereo and the different sections
of the orchestra are generally well defined - Schwarz's direction
playing a role too in that regard. Yet there is minor sound
distortion in the louder sections of most of the works, and
overall the audio often has a rather thin, muddy/lossy quality,
again most noticeable in the higher-volume sections. In other
words, whether audio is impressive enough to warrant a rescue
of these recordings from the vaults is debatable - especially
when there are still quite a few old Delos discs in circulation.
On the other hand, Naxos now own the copyright for these recordings,
so once the originals have all been taken, this reissue may
well be worth another look.
There is no doubt Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony make a fine
team. They have recorded prolifically for Naxos over the years,
especially American repertoire - although their recent Rimsky-Korsakov
volumes are particularly praiseworthy (8.572693,
Whether they have quite the right temperament for Wagner's deeply
serious music is more debatable, but the Seattle sound is urbane
and relaxed, directed with the lightest of touches by the highly
dependable Schwarz. Not surprisingly, they are at their best
in the upbeat Act III Prelude to Lohengrin.
In the end, however, with so many alternatives in the huge Wagner
discography, sound quality is just not good enough for either
of the first two volumes, sharing recordings from the same sessions,
to merit a place on the shelf. There is minor audio distortion
in all the louder sections, and overall the sound often has
a rather thin, muddy/lossy quality, again most noticeable in
the higher-volume passages. A final irritant is that the recordings
are very quiet, somewhere around a third of the norm, giving
the music - the Faust Overture in particular - a lacklustre
quality that it is hard to get past.
The booklet (leaflet) notes by veteran annotator Keith Anderson
are detailed and germane to the music, and Naxos provide, not
strictly necessarily, text and translation of Elsa's Dream as
sung by Alessandra Marc. Her warm, attractive voice notwithstanding,
the inclusion of a sung excerpt goes rather against the album
concept. As a compilation, by the way, this CD - for those determined
to acquire it - works less well than the first of the set, which
offered more variety of tempo and dynamics: much of the music
here is on the soft and slowish side.
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see also review by Rob