Wagner: Wesendonck Lieder (arr. Henze); Symphony in E; A Faust Overture; Overture to Das Liebesverbot; Overture to Rienzi

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Wagner
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Wesendonck Lieder (arr. Henze); Symphony in E; A Faust Overture; Overture to Das Liebesverbot; Overture to Rienzi
PERFORMER: Marjana Lipovsek (mezzo); Philadelphia Orchestra/Wolfgang Sawallisch
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 5 56165 2
As programmes of Wagner’s juvenilia and ephemera go, this one is quite attractive. Sawallisch’s vivacious account of the overture to Das Liebesverbot and the most energetic and imaginative recording to date of the first movement of the 1834 Symphony in E fragment (Sawallisch omits the incomplete second movement) set the stage for a bewitching centrepiece – Hans Werner Henze’s finely wrought arrangement for chamber orchestra of the Wesendonck Lieder. If the concluding bars of ‘Im Treibhaus’ and other passages create unexpectedly Webernesque effects, Henze’s challenging view of these songs is also tasteful, sensitive and full of insight. Despite her imposing sound and imperfectly controlled voice, Marjana Lipovsek achieves numerous moments of appropriately intimate expressivity.

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Playing early Wagner with a large, modern orchestra invites weightiness that does not necessarily work to the advantage of music that must be phrased flexibly and with animation to produce a gripping impression. That is to say I find these tonally resplendent accounts of the overture to Rienzi and (especially) the Faust Overture more aloof and reverent than urgently dramatic. But Sawallisch’s sympathetic championing of the less common works makes this a release worth investigating. David Breckbill