Wagner: Rienzi Overture; Prelude and Liebestod from ‘Tristan und Isolde’; Siegfried Idyll; Prelude to ‘Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg’; Prelude to ‘Parsifal’; Prelude to Act III of ‘Lohengrin’

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COMPOSERS: Wagner
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Rienzi Overture; Prelude and Liebestod from ‘Tristan und Isolde’; Siegfried Idyll; Prelude to ‘Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg’; Prelude to ‘Parsifal’; Prelude to Act III of ‘Lohengrin’
PERFORMER: Jane Eaglen (soprano)London Classical Players/Roger Norrington
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 5 55479 2 DDD
The recent heated discussions here and elsewhere about the darker side of Wagner’s genius, his anti-Semitism in particular, have tended to overshadow those positive aspects of his art which continue to endear it to both Jew and Gentile alike; its sublimity, warmth and luminosity, qualities easily overlooked in interpretations, reinforced by the heavyweight arsenal of the unbalanced modern symphony orchestra, anxious to endorse Wagner as musical metaphysician. Roger Norrington and his period instrumentalists provide the necessary deflationary corrective.

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Norrington is justifiably proud of his Meistersinger Prelude: running Wagner’s own timing a close second (but not much faster than Bodanzky’s Met account on Music & Arts), it is indeed the briskest on record, but in its natural pacing and proper weighting of subsidiary climaxes it’s also the most structurally integrated, a triumphant vindication of Wagner’s new symphonism. Ditto the Siegfried Idyll, fresh, inspiriting and tightly argued, leaving one regretful that Wagner didn’t live long enough to write his projected symphonies.

More controversial is the Prelude to Tristan und Isolde, taken by Norrington as a gracious waltz, which issues in a rather flaccid climax and leads to a ‘Transfiguration’ (with the traditional but incorrect label ‘Liebestod’) which needs a lighter, less mature voice than Jane Eaglen’s to match Norrington’s flowing tempo and blended textures.

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A Parsifal Prelude which marries spaciousness to speed, and bracing accounts of the Rienzi Overture and Lohengrin Act III Prelude complete a disc as absorbing interpretatively as it is for its novelty value. Could this perhaps be a pointer to Wagner performance in the new millennium? Antony Bye