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Hugo WOLF (1860-1903)
Verborgenheit (orch. Joseph Marx)
Er ist’s, Elfenlied (orch. Günter Raphael)
Anakreons Grab,Mignon
Richard STRAUSS (1864 -1949)
Befreit, Op. 39, No 4
Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No 7 in E major (ed. Haas)
Renée Fleming (soprano)
Staatskapelle Dresden/Christian Thielemann
rec. live, 1 September 2012, Semperoper, Dresden
German texts, English and French translations included
Video Director: Henning Kasten
Region Code 0; Picture Format NTSC 16:9. Sound format: LPCM 2.0
OPUS ARTE OA1115D DVD [106:00]

The event preserved on this DVD was Christian Thielemann’s inaugural evening as Principal Conductor of the Staatskapelle Dresden. The concert was reviewed for Seen and Heard by Jens F. Laurson.
 
Thielemann invited the American soprano, Renée Fleming to be his guest soloist on this occasion. I don’t know to what extent they’ve collaborated in the opera house in the past but they’ve certainly worked together on the concert platform: they can be viewed performing music by Richard Strauss with the Vienna Philharmonic in 2011, performances that excited David A. McConnell (review). Here they perform five songs by Hugo Wolf, three of them in the composer’s own orchestrations.
 
Verborgenheit has a lovely Straussian feel in the orchestration by Joseph Marx (1882-1964). Renée Fleming’s tone is sumptuous and the line is always lovely. Unfortunately, here and elsewhere her words are not always very clear. Although the texts and translations are printed in the booklet there are no subtitles - unless I’ve missed them, which I don’t think is the case. Frankly, for a premium product such as this the lack of subtitles is unpardonable; one wants to watch the picture and not to be constantly glancing at the booklet.
 
The performance of Er ist’s is light and eager; Wolf’s scoring is very effective here. Miss Fleming’s singing is ecstatic at the end and the orchestra matches her when they take over to bring the song to its conclusion. The orchestration of Elfenlied is by Günter Raphael (1903-1960), whose first name is misspelt in the booklet, I think. His scoring is gossamer light and very delicate. Renée Fleming’s engaging performance is sheer delight. She’s very expressive in the slow, serious Anakreons Grab. Mignon (‘Kennst du das Land?’) was orchestrated twice by Wolf - we learn from the notes that he left the first version on a tram and only recovered the score when he’d done the work all over again: the second version is used here. It’s one of Wolf’s greatest and grandest songs. Renée Fleming gives a fabulous, passionate reading of it, alive to every nuance.
 
As an encore she and Thielemann treat us to a gorgeous account of Befreit, a Strauss song that is also on the aforementioned Vienna Philharmonic DVD. Incidentally, it’s worth mentioning that if you play this DVD straight through you will watch an awful lot of well-deserved applause after the Wolf group and again after the Strauss encore and the Bruckner symphony.
 
In the notes John Williamson states that Christian Thielemann’s approach to Bruckner is firmly in the tradition of Furtwängler, Karajan and Böhm - and though he might have added the name of Eugen Jochum to that list I wouldn’t disagree with his view. On the podium Thielemann cuts an immaculate figure. His bearing is aristocratic and as he’s conducting an orchestra with an aristocratic sound it’s unsurprising that the results in this Bruckner performance have no little nobility. Incidentally, Thielemann is one of what seems like a growing number of today’s conductors who favour splitting the fiddles left and right. That’s something of which I heartily approve, not just because this arrangement gives us the antiphonal effect that composers like Bruckner would have expected but, just as importantly, because it places the cellos as well as the violas at the heart of the orchestral sound.
 
In this performance the sound produced by the Staatskapelle Dresden is magnificent. There’s a wonderful depth to the tone, whether they’re playing loudly or softly - and when the volume is loud there’s never a question that the tone is being forced. You can hear this tonal depth right through the spectrum of volume at the end of the first movement when Thielemann and his players build up to the closing peroration with great dignity and fine control. In fact the whole of the first movement is very distinguished. The pacing is unerring from start to finish and the music unfolds spaciously and with a feeling of inevitability. The second movement is gloriously sonorous. Thielemann shapes the long paragraphs with great skill and a fine sense of line and the reading is very noble. He and his players exhibit exemplary control and the conductor displays a keen sense of musical architecture, as he did in the preceding movement, guiding the players to a magnificent realisation of the main climax. This is a profoundly satisfying reading.
 
I’m less sure about the remaining movements, however. The scherzo is strong and energetic. However doubts begin to creep in when the trio is reached. Here Thielemann is very relaxed indeed. To be sure, the beauty of the playing is highly persuasive but the way the music is presented is just too moulded and expansive. Momentum is lost to an extent that I’m not sure Bruckner intended. The finale opens promisingly; the opening theme is sprightly and cheerful, as it is each time the material reappears. However, whenever Bruckner relaxes into a more lyrical vein Thielemann slows down rather more than is warranted. Furthermore, his expansive speeds at climaxes make the music sound grandiose rather than grand. So while there’s a great deal to admire in this reading of the Seventh Symphony there are some things in the last two movements that I find disconcerting.
 
Despite those reservations, however, the concert overall is most enjoyable and rewarding and there’s little doubt that Christian Thielemann’s Dresden tenure was auspiciously launched. As for the technical presentation by Opus Arte, I’ve already mentioned the very disappointing lack of subtitles. That earns a black mark but set against that the visual presentation is excellent and the glorious playing of the Staatskapelle Dresden and Renée Fleming’s gorgeous voice are reproduced in good sound.
 
John Quinn  



Masterwork Index : Bruckner symphony 7



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