One of the finest I have heard
A most joy-inducing
A winning partnership
A Lohengrin to
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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883) Lohengrin (1848)
Klaus Florian Vogt – Lohengrin
Falk Struckmann – Heinrich der Vogler
Camilla Nylund – Elsa von Brabant
Evgeny Nikitin – Friedrich von Telramund
Katarina Dalayman – Ortrud
Samuel Youn – Herald
Netherlands Radio Choir, Chorus of the Dutch National Opera
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Sir Mark Elder
rec. live, Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, 18 and 20 December 2015
Reviewed in CD stereo RCO LIVE RCO17002 [3 SACDs: 75:32 + 72:37 + 62:36]
The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra released a live Flying Dutchman in concert with Andris Nelsons in 2015 (review). Nelsons’ conducting was much the finest thing about that performance, and I’m told that he was lined up to conduct these live performances too, but had to pull out at short notice. I wonder, therefore, if they’re planning a Wagner series?
We should hope so because, even though there are shortfalls, this Lohengrin is very good. It helps that it is led by probably the foremost, and certainly the most recorded Swan Knight of our day in Klaus Florian Vogt. I first heard him in this role as part of Marek Janowski’s Wagner anniversary series (review), and he has grown into the role with greater experience. His voice remains bright and light, almost choir-boy-ish at times, but he has honed it to suit the role very well indeed. In fact, Vogt’s vocal tone seems to suit Wagner’s too-good-to-be-true heroes, like Lohengrin and Parsifal, really rather brilliantly. You certainly couldn’t imagine him as, say, Tannhäuser or Tristan, or even Verdi’s Alfredo or Manrico, but the clean radiance of the voice suits Lohengrin very well, and by now there are several performances of him to confirm his mastery of it, not least on DVD from Baden-Baden (review) or Bayreuth (review).
Most of the rest of the cast are very strong too. Camilla Nylund shades down her huge voice to make Elsa vulnerable and human, nowhere more effectively than in the Bridal Chamber Scene, even though I would have liked her address to the breezes to be a little more carefree. Falk Struckmann’s gravelly tone adds gravitas to the part of the king, though he sounds under pressure at key moments, such as the address to the soldiers in the second scene of Act Three. Samuel Youn’s Herald is clear and authoritative throughout. Evgeny Nikitin is a baleful Telramund, giving proper weight to the role, and even if he sound shouty at times then it’s good to hear the part sung as more than just a cipher for his wife.
It’s that wife that causes me the most misgivings, however. Katarina Dalayman was having a bad night when this was recorded, sounding squally and unfocused throughout. She struggles to keep the voice under control, unhappily dominating the ensemble that ends Act One, and she sounds dangerously shrill in her duet with Elsa. “Entweihte Götter” pushes her to (and perhaps even beyond) the limits of what she can do, and the results aren’t pleasant.
There is balm for the ears from the orchestra, however, and it is their contribution that is, perhaps, the best reason for picking up this recording. They sound fantastic throughout, challenging even the wonders of the Vienna Philharmonic under Abbado and Kempe (review). It is a real luxury to hear Wagner’s beautiful score played by a group like this, the prelude shimmering magisterially and the strings knowing just how much to assert themselves during “In Fernem Land.” Conversely, the brass sound electric during the Act Three Prelude, and the big ensemble at the end of Act Two can rarely have sounded better (helped by a special guest appearance from the Concertgebouw organ). They are directed magnificently by Sir Mark Elder, whose decades of Wagner experience come in very handy indeed. His command of the great arch of the Prelude is wonderfully controlled, and he paces the slow-burn moments, such as the Bridal Chamber Scene or the final third of Act Two, with an ear to knowing where he is going and how to get there. It is masterful and his interpretation is capable of holding its own next to any conductor’s. The contribution of the choruses is also super, sounding brilliant as bridesmaids and as warriors, and I loved the adrenaline rush of the big scene that ends Act One. Excellent recorded sound helps throughout.
Not a first choice then, but a very good one, and recommended for those who already know the work or who admire the artists and what to hear what they do in this repertoire, particularly if you’re a fan of the orchestra. The competitive price helps, too, as does the fact that the booklet includes the full libretto with English and French translation, even if the accompanying essay is rather thin.