Wagner: The Flying Dutchman

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Wagner
LABELS: PentaTone
WORKS: Wagner: The Flying Dutchman
PERFORMER: Matti Salminen, Ricarda Merbeth, Robert Dean Smith, Silvia Hablowetz, Steve Davislim, Albert Dohmen; Berlin Radio Choir & Symphony/ Marek Janowski
CATALOGUE NO: PTC 5186 400 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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Not every Dutchman recording that washes ashore is introduced by the Bundestag President. This concert-based newcomer, though, is not only the first in SACD surround-sound but opens a new ten-opera Wagner cycle, to be conducted, like this, by Marek Janowski. As a young conductor he recorded the first-ever digital Ring, whose fresh reading raised it to compete with those of the greats like Karl Böhm and Georg Solti. Consequently he arouses considerable expectations, and they’re by no means disappointed.
 
Janowski’s conducting is crisp and fleet-footed, shaping the music naturally and fluently. But he doesn’t exert himself to underline the natural imagery and some telling phrases pass for little; nor, this being a concert, is there much action or even stage noise to bring the performance to life. SACD’s vivid sense of space is thus rather wasted, but the sound is superb and the cast well served.
 
Albert Dohmen, Bayreuth’s reigning bass-baritone, is a warm anti-hero, but too soft-grained to sound demonically desperate. Matti Salminen’s Daland is vocally worn but still amazing for his age. Vocal honours, though, go to Ricarda Merbeth’s keen, nervy Senta, and the two tenors, Robert Dean Smith’s youthful but sturdy Erik and Steve Davislim’s lyrical Steersman – also the clean-cut chorus, which is reasonably involved dramatically.
 
There are better versions on ordinary CD – Otto Klemperer and Joseph Keilberth, among others – but this Dutchman augurs well for the coming cycle. Michael Scott Rohan