LABELS: Profil Hanssler
PERFORMER: Johan Botha, Adrianne Pieczonka, Petra Lang, Kwangchul Youn, Falk Struckmann, Eike Wilm Schulte; WDR Radio Choir, Cologne; NDR Choir; Prague Chamber Choir; WDR SO, Cologne/Semyon Bychkov
CATALOGUE NO: PH 09004
Even without SACD’s clarity and spaciousness, this would be a pretty good Lohengrin; with, it’s quite special. Semyon Bychkov conducts a robustly powerful yet airily textured performance, keenly dramatic yet finely detailed.
His Cologne orchestra and various choruses, focused and involved, sound tremendous in surround-sound, and his cast is similarly strong. Johan Botha’s clear, bright tone and unforced power embody the title role splendidly, despite a pronounced vibrato; he doesn’t generate the ideal otherworldly aura of the finest Lohengrins, such as Sandor Konya, but depicts a convincingly heroic, tender figure.
Bychkov includes the rare second half of his Grail narration – laudably, as it develops the music more naturally – but Profil’s booklet doesn’t include this within the stock libretto and ghastly Victorian translation provided. Adrianne Pieczonka’s Elsa is a touch watery, but effective as the character develops. Kwangchul Youn’s King Henry sounds almost as resonant as the great Gottlob Frick, but less characterful.
Falk Struckmann, as in Barenboim’s set, is a commanding but dry-voiced, barking Telramund; his Act II scene with Petra Lang’s slithy Ortrud can’t match Fischer-Dieskau and Christa Ludwig for Kempe (on EMI), but Struckmann and Lang generate considerable malevolent intensity, even if she sounds less impressive in ‘Entweihte Götter’. Eike Wilm Schulte’s experienced Herald is forceful rather than ingratiating.
As a whole this doesn’t quite equal Rafael Kubelík’s mystical atmosphere (on DG), Rudolf Kempe’s vocal glories or Georg Solti’s orchestral splendours (Decca); but the sensitive yet powerful conducting, sturdy singing and vivid SACD soundworld make it a valid alternative, unlikely to disappoint. Michael Scott Rohan