WAGNER: ORCHESTRAL HIGHLIGHTS • Klaus Tennstedt, cond; London PO • EMI 91008 (DVD: 80:00) Live: Tokyo 10/18/88
WAGNER Tannhäuser: Overture. Venusberg Bacchanal. Rienzi: Overture. Götterdämmerung: Dawn and Siegfried’s Rhine Journey. Siegfried’s Funeral March. Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg:Read morePrelude to Act I. Die Walküre: Ride of the Valkyries
Klaus Tennstedt never recorded a complete Wagner opera, though there are documents of a Walküre act I and an entire CD of selections with Jessye Norman. Still, the material on this DVD, taken from a single Tokyo performance in October of 1988, was a staple of Tennstedt’s repertoire. It’s easy to see why: there is nothing routine about the conductor’s approach to this oh-so-familiar material. We can savor the brilliance of Wagner’s orchestral writing in a way that’s rarely possible in the opera house, even when you’re staring at a lowered curtain for an Overture or Prelude. The chamber textures that episodically occur in Tannhäuser’s Venusberg music delight and, thanks to a deliberate tempo for Rienzi’s main theme, the music takes on an almost Parsifal-like meaningfulness and intensity.
On the second half of the concert, Tennstedt plays the “Dawn” section of Götterdämmerung’s program that leads up to the Rhinefahrt to provide a real sense of dramatic continuity. The first appearance of the “hero” motive in the brass is utterly magnificent in an understated way, and the Funeral March is powerfully sorrowful without resorting to histrionics. (Tennstedt, by the way, employs an augmented complement of brasses for his Ring excerpts, including four Wagner tubas and a bass trumpet.) In the Meistersinger Prelude, there’s the occasional odd balance—for some reason, we lose the tune near the beginning—but Tennstedt’s reading moves along smartly without losing majesty. Likewise, “Ride of the Valkyries,” always programmed by Tennstedt as an encore, proceeds at a brisk clip, an exuberant finish to the concert.
Video quality is excellent, with many close-up shots of the tired yet somehow youthful-looking conductor. The changes in his facial expression are marvelous to watch as he moves from Tannhäuser’s Overture to the ballet music. Tennstedt seems genuinely moved by the Japanese audience’s increasingly enthusiastic response, and the obvious endorsement of the LPO players. The 5.0 multichannel audio versions are generated from the stereo original by the “mSurround” technology, and offer a pleasant spaciousness. The string sound is a tad rough with the usually superior two-channel; I found that I preferred the surround program. Recommended.