LABELS: RCA Victor Red Seal
PERFORMER: Jan-Hendrik Rootering, Ben Heppner, Sharon Sweet, Sergei Leiferkus, Eva Marton, Bryn TerfelBavarian State Opera Chorus, Bavarian RSO & Chorus/Colin Davis
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 62646 2 DDD
‘What time’s the next swan?’, the tenor Leo Slezak famously asked in a stage whisper when the swan in Lohengrin moved off before he had climbed aboard. Well, he’s already here, and it was only last November I was welcoming Abbado’s new recording for DG as the best since Kempe’s classic account of 1963.
Colin Davis’s reading is judicious and thoughtful, but lacks both the superb control and the incisiveness of Abbado’s. The fact that the big moments are less exciting is also due to RCA’s more constricted, less immediate recording. And good as the Bavarians are, the VPO have the edge for Abbado.
Sharon Sweet is a relatively mature-sounding Elsa but quite acceptable, while Eva Marton is an aptly vituperative Ortrud. Even more vitriolic is the snarling, consonant-spitting Telramund of Sergei Leiferkus. Ben Heppner delivers the title role with a fresher voice and more ringing tone than DG’s Jerusalem, who sounds a little husky in places. But excellent as Heppner is, he doesn’t yet have Jerusalem’s ability to sound admonitory when warning of the forbidden question, or mysteriously absorbed in his Narration: his account has too little tonal variety, too little drama.
A more unconditional plus is Bryn Terfel’s rock-steady, trenchantly enunciated Herald, but RCA also has a calamitous disc change (between Ortrud’s blasphemous exclamation ‘Gott?’ and Telramund’s appalled reaction to it). Kempe and Abbado remain the top recommendations. Barry Millington