PERFORMER: Siegfried Jerusalem, Cheryl Studer, Kurt Moll, Hartmut Welker, Waltraud Meier; Vienna State Opera Chorus, VPO/Claudio Abbado
CATALOGUE NO: 437 808-2 DDD
Claudio Abbado has thought long and hard about his first Wagner opera before committing it to disc. He conducted Lohengrin at La Scala in 1981 and returned to it a decade later at the Vienna State Opera; this studio recording was made in 1991-2 and bears all the hallmarks of Abbado’s dedicated study of the score. From the opening Prelude he magically conjures the mystical realm of the Grail and always shows the greatest sensitivity for the work’s vibrant lyricism. He is able, moreover, to take the passages of this nature at a daringly slow tempo without losing his grip on the overall structure. Indeed, it is his adroit integration of the spheres of private intimacy and public clamour that most impresses. The pacing of crucial scenes, such as that of Ortrud and Telramund in the second act, or Elsa and Lohengrin in the third, is also marvellously assured, and he makes none of the traditional, disfiguring cuts.
He has at his disposal the Vienna Philharmonic on top form (those balefully reedy Viennese oboes come into their own in Ortrud’s music) and a choir that is equally admirable in rapt meditation or vigorous acclamation. Siegfried Jerusalem, in the title role, is similarly able to switch from mystical introspection (his Narration really sounds like an evocation of a distant world rather than a mere set-piece for tenor) to forthright expressions of loyalty, love or anger. Cheryl Studer’s tender, passionate Elsa is as intelligently sung as any on record, while Waltraud Meier’s blood-chilling Ortrud makes a formidable enemy. Fine contributions too from Hartmut Welker and Kurt Moll as Telramund and King Henry.
Rudolf Kempe’s classic 1963 recording has until now remained unchallenged, but Abbado’s account is a match for it interpretatively, while offering all the advantages of modern, digital sound. No need to hesitate.