Notes and Editorial Reviews
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg:
Act I Prelude.
Siegfried’s Rhine Journey; Siegfried’s Funeral Music.
Tristan und Isolde:
Prelude and Liebestod.
Hans Knappertsbusch, cond; Berlin St Op O;
IDI 6569 (63:18) Live: Berlin 11/19/1959;
I referred to Knappertsbusch’s 1964
as “an essential purchase for all Wagnerians” in
31:5. Knappertsbusch’s ability to honor the long line, to see things structurally, and invoke the heavy weight of Wagnerian inevitability was perhaps the key to his genius.
This disc, issued by Istituto Discografico Italiano, mainly comprises items from a live 1959 concert. The date given on the jewel case is November 11, 1959, but that appears to be incorrect, and the more likely date is the 19th (using John Hunt’s discography as a trusted reference). The
act I Prelude is announced as the first CD issue of this particular performance (it has been previously available on LP, but only in one incarnation, as far as I know), and it is good to see it back. There is an ecstatic edge to the playing, and the tempo flows naturally and beautifully. String trills have a delicious edge to them. This is a performance that, despite its live-concert provenance, is distinctly of the theater. The transfer is generally excellent, with no discernible distortion at climactic moments. Against this, there is a certain shrillness to the violins’ upper reaches.
A similar sense of dynamic trajectory informs “Siegfried’s Rhine Journey,” a reading that includes some simply stunning solo horn contributions. And despite Kna’s somewhat restrained speeds, the music can still dance beautifully. All excellent so far, but it is the crushing aura of Siegfried’s “Funeral March” that actually takes the listening experience up a notch to the truly great. Here Death’s presence seems palpable, the heavy tread of the march itself now frightening rather than merely a representation of the inevitable. The atmosphere of Knappertsbusch’s earlier 1951 Bayreuth performance (Testament) is invoked but not superseded.
excerpts feature a purely orchestral “Liebestod.” The famous Prelude unfolds towards a climax that is potent if not earth shattering; the “Liebestod” itself similarly fails to reach exalted heights. The
is magnificent, however. Kna gets warm, inviting sound from his Cologne orchestra (strings in particular), while the fresh woodwinds obviously enjoy their pastoral pipings. There have been at least eight Kna
s available over the years. This is one of the earliest (there is a 1949 account that predates it, with the Vienna Philharmonic, which appeared on a Melodram LP). The present Cologne performance is miraculous and essentially cancels out any minor misgivings presented about the earlier pieces on the disc. Only a slightly careful clarinet descent around halfway through calls for anything approaching negative comment.
FANFARE: Colin Clarke
Works on This Recording
Siegfried Idyll by Richard Wagner
Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1870; Germany
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