PERFORMER: Robert Künzli, Anna Gabler, Brian Davis, Daniel Behle, Gabriela Popescu, Frank van Hove, Sebastian Holecek, In-Sung Sim, Michael Mantaj, Werner Rollenmüller; Munich Philharmonic Choir; Philharmonie Festiva/Gerd Schaller
CATALOGUE NO: PH 09044
Brahms’s friend Carl Goldmark completed Merlin in 1886, when it was premiered at the Vienna Hofoper. Fairly successful on
both sides of the Atlantic before the Great War but hardly heard since, it’s representative of an almost-forgotten genre of 19th-century operas on aspects of the Arthurian mythos. (Chausson’s Le Roi Arthus and Albéniz’s Merlin are other examples).
The libretto by Siegfried Lipiner concentrates on Merlin’s fatal love for the wild child Viviane, which dims the magical powers with which he had served King Arthur, so that he falls victim to the Demon he had previously enslaved.
This spirited revival reveals a beautifully-scored and theatrically quite sure-footed piece fascinatingly poised between Brahms and Wagner: chromatic, Tristan-esque motifs contrast with choral writing more out of Rinaldo and the Triumphlied.
Between these extremes there is a supple, late-Romantic middle-ground where Goldmark’s declamatory vocal writing rises to occasional eloquence, with some noble orchestral passages that seem to anticipate Elgar.
The piece was certainly worth revival, but actual greatness eludes it. Luckily this production is vocally strong, with Robert Künzli as a noble-voiced Merlin, Frank van Hove as the scheming Demon and Anna Gabler a touching Viviane being the clear stars of the show. Calum MacDonald