Wagner: Tannhäuser

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Wagner
LABELS: Orfeo
ALBUM TITLE: Wagner: Tannhäuser
WORKS: Tannhäuser
PERFORMER: Josef Greindl, Wolfgang Windgassen, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Josef Traxel, Toni Blankenheim, Gerhard Stolze, Alfons Herwig, Gré Brouwenstijn, Herta Wilfert, Volker Horn; Bayreuth Festival Chorus & Orchestra/André Cluytens (rec 1955)
CATALOGUE NO: C 643 043 D
This 1955 recording preserves a musical echo of Wieland Wagner’s 1954-55 Bayreuth Tannhäuser production, which presented the drama’s battle between mind and instinct in a provocatively stylised fashion. Experienced in sound alone, this performance makes a substantial and satisfying impression. In the title role, Wolfgang Windgassen is in fresher vocal form than under Sawallisch in 1962 (Philips), and the blueprint of his gripping portrayal (which was later to intensify) is already in place. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, singing Wolfram in prime vocal estate, sets the tone for unusually lyrical contributions from the lesser minstrels, and a boy soprano, Volker Horn, sings the Young Shepherd confidently. Unfortunately, Gré Brouwenstijn’s spinning, feminine singing is not always captured to best advantage: her stentorian sound at the beginning of Elisabeth’s prayer probably stems as much from her proximity to the microphone as from interpretative choice. Even so, her Elisabeth is less developed than her memorable Sieglinde in Leinsdorf’s Walküre (Decca). Herta Wilfert’s Venus, well sung but more domestic than alluring, and Josef Greindl’s authoritative, vocally idiosyncratic Landgrave round out a cast without a significant weak link.

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André Cluytens lucidly conducts Wieland’s slightly cut hybrid of Wagner’s Dresden and Paris versions, summoning patient lyricism in the song contest and unexpectedly ardent commitment in the Act III prelude. Save for a few moments of off-mike singing, the recorded sound is well balanced if a little dry. David Breckbill