When these discs were originally released singly in the early '80s, they were not only marvelous recordings of the purely orchestral music from Wagner's operas, they announced the arrival of a marvelous new conductor. At the time, Klaus Tennstedt was known only as the conductor of several astonishingly good recordings of Mahler's symphonies, but his abilities in the standard repertoire were as yet unknown. But with these two discs of recordings with the Berlin Philharmonic, Tennstedt proved that his Mahler was no accident. Indeed, so strong, so central, and so overwhelmingly compelling are his Wagner recordings that his Mahler recordings seem almost accidental. In the disc of excerpts from the Ring operas, Tennstedt is at once immensely dramatic, ecstatically lyrical, and profoundly musical. In the disc of preludes and overtures from Tannhäuser, Rienzi, Lohengrin, and Meistersinger, Tennstedt is at once intensely concentrated, widely expansive, and deeply human. Aided by the super-virtuoso playing of the Berlin Philharmonic and the stupendous impact of EMI's early digital, Tennstedt's Wagner was as fine or finer than any of his contemporaries and nearly in the same league as his predecessors.
George Szell (1897-1970), one of the greatest conductors of the twentieth century, was born in Budapest, studied piano, conducting, and composing in Vienna and Berlin, and learned his craft as a conductor in the opera houses of Europe. World War II brought him to America, where he conducted at the Metropolitan Opera (1942-1946), and finally led the Cleveland Orchestra from 1946 until his death, "molding the ensemble into one of the world's finest," as the Harvard Biographical Dictionary of Music notes. Szell and the Cleveland became as distinguished a collaboration as Toscanini and the NBC or Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic. Szell brought the Cleveland Orchestra to such a peak of perfection that many good judges considered the Cleveland under Szell the premier conductor/orchestra team in the world.
Bruno Walter's recording of the Siegfried Idyll with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra is radiantly beautiful–one of the most affecting of all this great conductor's statements. The horns wobble and nick a couple of notes, the ensemble isn't always perfect, and little things happen in the winds, but the sense of what the music is about–the character of the solo playing, the phrasing, and the wonderful feeling of delicacy and joy–is unmatched by anyone, except perhaps Karajan. The "cradle song" quality of the oboe solo early in the piece is captured to perfection, and the music moves along without ever being in a hurry. The end just floats away without seeming to drag or slow down at all. –Ted Libbey
Well, the contents of this well-filled disc may take more space than the actual review. The music here was originally issued on two discs in the Stokowski Stereo Set from RCA in 1997. The music on those discs was, in turn, taken from three LPs recorded in 1960, 61, 73 and 1974. What amazes me is that the music from the earlier recordings doesn't SOUND like it was recorded a decade earlier.
Robert Stumpf II
Deutsche Grammophon continues its successful relationship with the acclaimed Cleveland Orchestra and its chief conductor Franz Welser-Most with this thrilling all-Wagner album. The release of this album will tie in with Franz Welser-Most picking up the baton as General Music Director of the Vienna State Opera. The Clevelanders deliver Lohengrin Prelude (Act I and Act III), The Ride of the Valkyries, the Rienzi and Meistersinger Overture, and the orchestral version of opera's non plus ultra of love's power to transfigure, the Liebestod, from Tristan und Isolde. The impact of soprano Measha Brueggergosman's Wesendonck Lieder, was, said The Plain Dealer "as if she'd penned them herself Tracking Brueggergosman's every move from fierce declamation down to the faintest whisper, Welser-Most and crew nudge the singer's performance into the musical heavens."