Wagner: Siegfried Idyll; Rienzi Overture; Eine Faust-Ouvertüre; Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg Prelude

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COMPOSERS: Wagner
LABELS: RCA Red Seal
WORKS: Siegfried Idyll; Rienzi Overture; Eine Faust-Ouvertüre; Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg Prelude
PERFORMER: Berlin PO/Lorin Maazel
CATALOGUE NO: 74321 68717 2
The Berlin Philharmonic is no stranger to the Siegfried Idyll. Indeed, its recordings of the work with Muck, Kubelík and Karajan have assumed classic status and make as strong a case as any for using a full complement of strings rather than the one-to-a-part disposition of the first performance, outside the door of the composer’s sleeping wife. But it needs careful handling if Wagner’s leisurely tempi aren’t to induce continuing somnolence and if its unorthodox structure isn’t to seem simply bewildering.

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Recorded exactly 70 years after Muck’s exemplary reading, and clocking in at around five minutes longer, Lorin Maazel’s rendition is a model of rectitude and superfine control; and the sound per se, with the Berliners riding high in lowest gear, is hard to resist. But by setting too leisurely an initial tempo, Maazel smothers Wagner’s birthday offering with a little too much love, subjecting each phrase to enough unflinching scrutiny to make the listener feel uncomfortably voyeuristic.

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If the Siegfried Idyll comes as something of a disappointment, then the three full-scale overtures on the disc, Rienzi, Faust and Meistersinger, must count as unqualified triumphs. Here, Maazel’s spacious direction, the orchestra’s burnished opulence and RCA’s rich yet detailed recording all combine to produce inspiring readings of properly symphonic gravitas. Vulgarity is eschewed in the Rienzi, Faust’s brooding anticipates the darkest pages of Götterdämmerung, and the Mastersingers process with rather more dignity than Siegfried can muster in the bombastic concert-ending to the ‘Rhine Journey’ which concludes this uneven collection. Antony Bye