Siegfried Wagner: Scenes & arias for mezzo-soprano

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COMPOSERS: Siegfried Wagner
LABELS: CPO
WORKS: Scenes & arias for mezzo-soprano
PERFORMER: Iris Vermillion; Cologne WDR Radio Chorus, Cologne WDR SO/Werner Andreas Albert
CATALOGUE NO: 999 651-2
The fairy-tale operas of Siegfried Wagner, like those of Lortzing, have not transferred well – if at all – to Anglophone soil. Collectors of CPO’s valuable discs of overtures and Marco Polo’s series of complete operas will testify to their somewhat singular appeal. But much still remains to be recorded, so it’s good to have this taster of further riches in the form of a selection of scenes and arias for mezzo-soprano, sympathetically if underwhelmingly projected by the experienced Iris Vermillion.

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The models for most of these colourful characters seem to be the mother and the witch from Hänsel und Gretel, less malevolent to be sure, but clothed in similar musical raiment. Spells are cast, futures are predicted, and world-weariness lags not far behind. Not as inventive and lacking the tight focus of Humperdinck, Siegfried’s music treads that neglected yet rewarding backwater of late German Romanticism, too conservative to enter the annals of thumbnail music histories and tinged with unfortunate and often unjustifiable political associations.

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Admittedly, this is far from great music: Siegfried – and the conductor here – often seems content to coast along at a flaccid moderato, though the intensity of the interlude from Der Friedensengel taps deeper and more urgent creative wellsprings. But more galvanised performances all round would have made a better case. Antony Bye