Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Orchestral Excerpts 3
Overture - Venusberg Music (Tannhäuser) [22:35]
Introduction - Dance of the Apprentices - Procession of the Mastersingers (Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Act III) [12:05]
Prelude (Tristan und Isolde, Act I) [11:18]
*Brangäne's Warning (Tristan und Isolde, Act II) [2:47]
Prelude (Tristan und Isolde, Act III) [6:46]
*Liebestod (Tristan und Isolde, Act III) [6:55]
*Alessandra Marc (soprano)
Seattle Symphony/Gerard Schwarz
rec. Seattle Opera House, Washington USA, March 1986; 19-20 February 1992 (Tristan). DDD
NAXOS 8.572769 [62:26]
This is the final volume of three released by Naxos more or less simultaneously, breathing new life into some oldish Delos recordings. Leaving aside any questions regarding the point or musical validity of orchestral 'bleeding chunks' riven 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. Besides countless 'best of opera'-style compilations, there are two 'Orchestral Highlights from Operas' as well as instrumental excerpts from The Ring on three separate discs by different ensembles and conductors (8.550136, 8.550498, 8.550211).
In all cases sound quality is below par. Unfortunately these Gerard Schwarz recordings have a similar vintage and do not entirely avoid such audio shortcomings. Sound quality is not bad by any means, but whether it is impressive enough to warrant a rescue of these recordings from the vaults is debatable - especially when the original Delos discs are still available on the internet.
There is no denying that the Seattle Symphony are a fine orchestra. Their sound is urbane and relaxed, directed with the lightest of touches by the highly dependable and hugely experienced Schwarz. They have recorded prolifically for Naxos over the years, especially American repertoire - although their recent Rimsky-Korsakov volumes are particularly praiseworthy (8.572693, 8.572787, 8.572788). Whether they have quite the right temperament for Wagner's deeply serious music is more arguable. The brass in the Tannhäuser Overture sound rather perfunctory, for example, and there is not the same passion in the Venusberg Music or the Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde that many European orchestras and conductors seem to generate.
In general, however, with so many alternatives in the huge Wagner discography, sound quality is not really quite good enough for this volume or either of the previous two - sharing recordings from the same sessions - to merit a place on the shelf. The strings exhibit a distinct lack of depth, giving an overall quality that is a little on the thin side. However, perhaps as a cheapish introduction to Wagner these three volumes may find a market, in which case this last disc is probably the best of the set, offering a maximum of drama and volume, nowhere more so than in the literally orgiastic Venusberg Music that follows on from the serene Tannhäuser Overture.
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 the two sung items. Though Alessandra Marc's voice is warm and attractive, its inclusion does rather undermine the album concept.
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Not really quite good enough to merit a place on the shelf. 

see also review by Paul Corfield Godfrey