CONSIDERED OPINION OF THE CLEVELAND ORCHESTRA CONCERT OF 18 FEBRUARY 2010
Richard Wagner: Overture to Rienzi; Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde; Prelude to Act III of Lohengrin; Prelude to Act I of Lohengrin; Wesendonck-Lieder; Prelude to Act I of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg; "The Ride of the Valkyries" from Die Walküre. (Measha Brueggergosman, sop.; Franz Welser-Möst, cond.)
The memoirs of Robert von Hornstein record a curious dinner party given in the rooms of Richard Wagner. The evening began agreeably. Instead of sampling Wagner's latest compositions or listening to him hold forth on this or that theory, the guests were enjoying conversing with one another. That, as far as Wagner was concerned, wouldn't do. He put a stop to it with a sudden shriek. Everyone fell silent, staring at the great composer. Wagner then announced that he was really, really fond of E.T.A. Hoffmann's story "The Golden Pot." And he proceeded to read it to them, word for word, in its entirety.
No doubt about it: Wagner liked being the center of attention. And this weekend the composer occupies the spotlight at Severance Hall, where Franz Welser-Möst and the Cleveland Orchestra are recording an all-Wagner program for release on Deutsche Grammophon.
The disc is to feature soprano Measha Brueggergosman. And if you're familiar with Brueggergosman from her high-octane Cleveland performances of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and Janacek's Glagolitic Mass, you might be surprised at the delicacy with which she tackles Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder. Her rich-toned voice stands out from the orchestra in low relief, allowing one's attention to focus simultaneously on Welser-Möst's attentively colored accompaniment. Mathilde Wesendonck's poetry is uncomfortably overheated, but Brueggergosman knows how to channel the steam that pours off it. She takes the sticky self-pity of "Im Treibhaus" and the cosmic agitation of "Stehe still!" exactly as far as is profitable and no further.
Relatively brisk tempos were often the order of the day in the extracts which made up the remainder of Thursday's program. Welser-Möst's version of the Prelude to Lohengrin's first act seemed pushed a bit hard. I admired its sense of economy, but I missed the magical way this music can seem to coalesce from the ether, shimmering out of empty space like some rare atmospheric phenomenon. In the Prelude and Love-Death from Tristan und Isolde, on the other hand, comparatively quick pacing was turned to dramatic advantage. And Welser-Möst's carefully sculpted dynamics at the big final climax kept the passion from turning to mush. The Prelude to Die Meistersinger, meanwhile, had no hint of the excessive solemnity which, in some recordings, smothers the spirit of the opening processional.
Then there were a trio of performances which, if not altogether distinctive, were quite satisfying. The Overture to Rienzi featured vivid, detailed orchestral playing and a nicely nuanced, not overly plush "Prayer for the People." And Welser-Möst's lively realizations of the Lohengrin Act III Prelude and the inevitable "Ride of the Valkyries"? They commanded the attention even of the numerous patrons who, despite prominent "Live Recording" posters, thought quiet passages elsewhere in the evening good opportunities for a whispered confab. The Valkyries silenced the chatter as effectively as a sudden shriek. And Wagner at last had the floor all to himself—just as he liked.
I'm Jerome Crossley for WCLV 104/9.
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