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Wagner: Tannhäuser - Janowski

Wagner: Tannhäuser - Janowski

PentaTone Classics  PTC 5186405 (3 discs)

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Opera


Wagner: Tannhäuser (Tannhauser)

Albert Dohmen (Landgraf Hermann von Thüringen)
Robert Dean Smith (Tannhäuser)
Christian Gerhaher (Wolfram von Eschenbach)
Peter Sonn (Walther von der Vogelweide)
Wilhelm Schwinghammer (Biterolf)
Michael McCown (Heinrich der Schreiber)
Martin Snell (Reinmar von Zweter)
Nina Stemme (Elisabeth)
Marina Prudenskaya (Venus)
Bianca Reim (Ein junger Hirt)
Sabine Puhlmann, Isabelle Voßkühler (Vosskuhler), Roksolana Chraniuk, Bettina Peck (Edelknabe)
Rundfunkchor Berlin
Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin
Marek Janowski (conductor)

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Review by Graham Williams - February 5, 2013

According to Cosima Wagner's diaries, a few weeks before his death in 1883 Wagner declared that he “still owed the world a Tannhäuser” and from the time of the opera's première the composer frequently made revisions to the score, but still remained fundamentally dissatisfied with the work.

Fundamentally'Tannhäuser' exists in two versions; the original Dresden setting of 1845 and the Paris version of 1861 (really the Vienna version of 1875 as Wagner translated the libretto from French back to German). The latter, crucially made after Wagner had written Tristan und Isolde, is not only longer, thanks mainly to the added 'Bacchanale', but possesses a harmonic richness and increased chromaticism in keeping with Wagner's mature style. Marek Janowski has chosen to record the shorter original Dresden version for this the sixth release in PentaTone's epic Wagner project and, though some may have wished for the Paris version, this is yet another resounding success for this gripping Wagner series. As was the case with the previous five releases this is a live recording of a concert performance - this one given on May 5th 2012 in the Berlin Philharmonie.

Before considering individual performances, unstinting praise must first be lavished on the superb Rundfunkchor, Berlin. They display a rock solid firmness and depth of tone, particularly amongst the basses, that makes the Pilgrim's choruses in Acts I and III so thrilling, while the ladies of the Rundfunkchor sing with a winning lightness in Act II. It would be hard to find a better trained or more committed chorus outside Bayreuth.

Robert Dean Smith as the opera's eponymous hero brings his customary reliability and impeccable musicianship to the role. He copes manfully with the cruelly high tessitura of one of Wagner's heaviest tenor parts yet never makes an ugly sound. He rises to the challenge of the long Act III 'Rome Narration' without any strain or lack of authority in his singing. The casting of Marina Prudenskaya as 'Venus' is an interesting choice. Her robust cutting mezzo with its youthful timbre is able to ride the orchestra with ease, though anyone expecting the creamy and seductive sound of say Christa Ludwig will be disappointed. However, she does portray the character's anger and frustration with her lover through singing of great intensity and power.

It was no surprise to find that Nina Stemme, arguably the finest Wagner soprano of our day, sings 'Elisabeth' with thrilling vibrancy, accuracy and total assurance. The eager anticipation she displays in 'Dich, teure Halle, grüß ich wieder' contrasts with the way she scales down her voluminous voice for a most moving 'Allmächt’ge Jungfrau, hör mein Flehen!' in the final Act. Another compelling reason for acquiring this 'Tannhäuser' set is for Christian Gerhaher's marvellous assumption of the key role of 'Wolfram'. Gerhaher is best known for his superb performances of German Lied. Here he brings all the vocal refinement and feeling for words of a great lieder singer to this role and the sheer beauty of his smooth baritone voice in 'O, du mein holden Abendstern' in Act III is one of the many highlights of this recording.

After a slightly shaky start Albert Dohmen provides a reliable and sonorous 'Landgraf' and the four knights are also finely sung, especially the 'Walther von der Vogelweide' of Peter Sonn. Special mention must also be made of the pure singing of Bianca Reim as the 'Junger Hirte'.

The recording is excellent in almost every respect. The soloists voices are effectively balanced with the orchestra and the clean acoustic of the Berlin Philharmonie is realistically conveyed. Whilst changing perspectives are generally well managed one small disappointment is that the considerable forces of the 'stage music' that Wagner requires (the booklet lists the names of no less than 52 instrumentalists) are just a little too distant to make the necessary impression.

Marek Janowski's unfussy yet thrilling conducting once again illustrates his clear-sighted approach to Wagner and also the masterly control of his forces. He paces the opera perfectly ( in matters of tempi he closely matches those of Bernard Haitink's 1985 EMI version) and throughout, the playing of the Rundfunk-Sinfonie Orchester, Berlin, is both supple and warm as is clearly demonstrated in the opera's Overture and the Prelude to Act III.

The lavish packaging of the discs, within a book that includes the full German/English libretto and excellent note by Steffen Georgi, matches that of the previous five issues. On both artistic and sonic grounds this 'Tannhäuser' is a wonderful achievement and can be wholeheartedly recommended.

Copyright © 2013 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

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