First things first. Make sure to turn up the volume when playing this low-level live recording, lest you get the impression that nothing's going on performance-wise. And there's plenty going on: Measha Brueggergosman's rich, creamy voice, with its solid core and ringing top notes perfectly suits Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder. Her deeply felt, finely nuanced singing captures the longing and tenderness embedded in these Tristan-esque songs. Franz Welser-Möst leads sensitive accompaniments with the Cleveland Orchestra.
Sensitivity is a factor in the purely orchestral part of the program as well. Welser-Möst employs a lighter touch than we are used to hearing in this music, which, combined with the Cleveland's famedRead more ensemble clarity makes for a Tristan und Isolde Prelude and (especially) Liebestod that sound strikingly like Debussy.
Welser-Möst's nimble style may cause some discomfort for fans of George Szell's Wagner recordings. Where's the weighty tone, the measured pacing, and the grandeur? I initially had these same concerns, but as I listened I began to see the value in Welser-Möst's fresh approach: Wagner here sounds spry and youthful in contrast to the grand old man we usually encounter. The swift and sure Ride of the Valkyries gives more the impression of an actual flight, while Lohengrin's Act 3 prelude crackles with excited energy. That said, the Rienzi prelude could do with more tension and focus (not that there's much that can be done with this awkward, quasi-Lisztian piece). The Cleveland Orchestra, with its tight, piercing brass and soaring strings, plays fabulously throughout. Overall it's an enjoyable program, just make sure you crank up the volume.