Wagner: Operatic preludes and excerpts

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COMPOSERS: Wagner
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Operatic preludes and excerpts
PERFORMER: Philadelphia Orchestra/Christian Thielemann
CATALOGUE NO: 453 485-2
In its old-style grandeur and flexibility of tempo, Thielemann’s Wagner is strongly reminiscent of Furtwängler, his avowed model. It is no slavish imitation, however: on the contrary, Thielemann indulges in some quite remarkable idiosyncrasies. The result is compelling and, to my ears, entirely convincing: this is Wagner conducting of the highest order.

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A characteristic trait is his broadening of the tempo at climaxes (the Act I Prelude to Lohengrin is a good example), though even the aftermath is notably drawn out – a telling hint of the regret and tenderness to come in the opera. The expansive phrases and expressive suspensions of the Act I Prelude and Good Friday Music from Parsifal are likewise elongated sometimes to extremes, but to devastating effect.

The Philadelphia Orchestra may not be an obvious choice for such repertoire, but it has played it with Thielemann in concert and there is clearly an empathy here. Certainly the latitude Thielemann allows himself in the Good Friday Music and, occasionally, the Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan (heartfelt, emotionally overwhelming readings), could only work in the context of such a rapport.

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On this evidence, Thielemann’s first complete Wagner opera on record, when it finally comes, will be a landmark event. Barry Millington