Wagner: Overtures & Preludes

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Richard Wagner
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Wagner: Overtures & Preludes
WORKS: Wagner: Overtures & Preludes to: Die Freen; Christopher Columbus; Das Liebesverbot; Rienzi; Faust; Der fliegende Holländer; Lohengrin – Act III; Tristan und Isolde; Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
PERFORMER: Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Neeme Järvi


Unlike many other releases in this year’s anniversary flood, this extensive collection of overtures and preludes features some appealing rarities, notably the early Die Feen, full of Weber-like magical heroics, and Das Liebesverbot, Wagner’s adaptation of Measure for Measure relocated to Sicily and alive with manic castanets. Even the shapeless Columbus foreshadows finer things. However, most of these have already appeared as fillers in Neeme Järvi’s other Wagner discs in this series, a drawback if you want to buy them – as well you may.

But this is still an excellent programme in its own right, hard to better, even though, surprisingly, Järvi in his long career has conducted little or no theatrical Wagner. He tends to favour measured tempos, but these are illuminated by the fine playing of the RSNO, gleaming richly in the spacious grandeur of SACD sound, a fine demonstration of why this connoisseur’s format still endures. Rienzi, slow-building and epic, stands out as a first manifestation of revolutionary genius should. Faust is broodingly poetic, and the Dutchman overture, a vivid new appearance, stormily grand but unforced. The Lohengrin and Meistersinger excerpts are excellent, and only the Tristan Prelude seems unduly prosaic.

Unfortunately ill-judged, though, are the sleeve notes, for some reason Dutch in origin. Stuffed with unhelpful pomposities –‘One must say of Wagner that his rhetorical sensibility essentially goes back to the Baroque,’ for example – they give newcomers and non-experts little idea of the pieces’ context or what they’re actually about. But that shouldn’t put anyone off this enjoyable disc.


Michael Scott Rohan