PERFORMER: James King, Gundula Janowitz, Karl Ridderbusch, Thomas Stewart, Gwyneth Jones, Gerd Nienstedt; Bavarian RSO &Chorus/Rafael Kubelík
CATALOGUE NO: 449 591-2 ADD Reissue
The prime requisite in the title role of Lohengrin is for a singer who can encompass both the declamatory heroism of the Swan Knight and the sensitivity to deliver the most tenderly lyrical music Wagner wrote for a tenor in any opera before Die Walküre. James King has both qualities in abundance, giving him the edge over Ben Heppner’s expertly schooled, but too often bland, reading for Colin Davis (RCA) and arguably even over Siegfried Jerusalem (for Abbado on DG), on whose voice the decades of Wagner singing are taking their toll.
Gundula Janowitz is an ideally innocent, vulnerable Elsa – far more so than Sharon Sweet for Davis, while Thomas Stewart and Gwyneth Jones as Telramund and Ortrud make a formidable pair of villains. Abbado conducts this work better than anyone (except possibly Rudolf Kempe on the classic 1963 EMI recording), but Kubelík’s is also a fine performance: the series of confrontations in Act II are viscerally exciting, and he conjures a raptly intimate atmosphere for Elsa’s dream narration, the bridal-chamber and other private scenes. Even with the over-reverberant, aggressively bright 1971 recording (brass far too strident at climaxes), this remains a competitive choice at mid-price. Barry Millington