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Guido Cantelli Conducts Richard Wagner
Richard [Classical] Wagner, Guido Cantelli, NBC Symphony Orchestra
Guido Cantelli Conducts Richard Wagner
Genre: Classical
  •  Track Listings (5) - Disc #1


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Cantelli as Wagner Conductor? Absolutely!
Doug - Haydn Fan | California | 04/24/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This Italian IDIS import suffers from an almost complete lack of provenance - the works included seem to be collated from various other previous issues. The brief notes in Italian and English offer little beyond some hackneyed biographics and a single short and quite unacceptable paragraph on the recordings.

Basically one buys this to hear how Cantelli conducts a cross section of Wagner highlight concert hall pieces. After listening through this CD, there seems no denying Cantelli's affinity for the music of Wagner. Like many conductors since, he handles the music well, with good organization of the sections and clear lines and more than acceptable pacing. Yet he also brings qualities setting him apart from many of his peers in this repetoire. Where he seems to move up and beyond many is a striking intensity of concentration propelling a (seemingly handed down from God or Toscanini) certainty in the conductor's explicit need in Wagner to continually expand the music's emotional range, and do so through musical means, means that with Cantelli are often arrival points for yet further extensions and developments. Last, he often chooses striking and quite old-fashioned dramatic effects, effects no doubt left over from the days of Nikisch and Mahler, which more directly engage the listener with the music's variety, and bring out more than the anticipatory harmonic resolutions, offering the music's ceaseless novelties as musical surprises - and surprise in Wagner is at the heart of great Wagner conducting.

The result at its best combines some of the intellectual rigors of a Szell or a Rodzinski, but with more poetic imagination, and a very rare sense for the spiritual calm behind the notes, an unheard silence framing and setting off the ethos of the artistic creation enfolding in performance.
I suppose this sounds like Knappertsbusch, but it's also something I often sense at work in a Cantelli performance.

Now of course anyone reading this far must be aware - these are MONAURAL recordings - if you want stereo in Wagner, and you should, then there are any number of choices - from older conductors such as Klemperer Wagner: Orchestral Music and Szell Wagner: Orchestral Music from Der Ring des Nibelungen Die Meistersinger - Tristan und Isolde and Reiner Reiner Conducts Wagner - Highlights from Die Meistersinger + Gotterdammerung (RCA) all the way through today's young Turks.

Thus there are certainly a number of excellent even gripping versions of Wagner's music from Gotterdammerung, and no end of takes of Siegfried's Rhein Journey; Reiner and Chicago come to mind for starters.
Yet Cantelli excells at bringing out a sweeping fireworks sort of pinwheeling majesty in the grander moments from this scene seemingly beyond Reiner, or at least Reiner in the studio. Cantelli opts for a less sinister reading from the very onset, with a long melody in the darker lower strings accorded an extraordinary and careful prominence, with recollection and love dominating and culminating these opening pages until with a sudden explosion a frenzied attack ignites the entire orchestra. Wagner's endless insistence on singing lines emerges here with truly epic scale and a wonderful freshness: this is a reading that would have brought tears to the most hard-boiled Wagnerian. And my how the New York Philharmonic play! What an orchestra they could be when they put their heart and soul into the music!

The finest live performances can sweep an orchestra up in a way you almost never encounter from the stop start procedures of most studio recording, where care and getting it right for posterity throws a damper on spontaneity and risk-taking. Professional musicians have a phobia about mistakes, as do record producers. Yet in this live reading The New York Philharmonic sounds in rare fettle indeed, and at the triumphal moment quite gets up and struts. Nobody can get a orchestra to play like this every day, and it's a wonderful thing to hear. Today's orchestras more and more are attempting to bring some of this quality out in theri recordings - more and more major labels are issuing live concerts. Yet though we moderns might play with greater detailing, aided by the latest recording technology, these sort of heightened music performance moments occur infrequently in any age, and so my admiration for this release is heavily weighted on this one excerpt.

Discussions of the others go about as follows.

In the Reinzi Overture Cantelli can be heard leading a tightly controlled, well-balanced reading. The playing by the NBC is thankfully not too compacted sonically, it's a fine job overall, if not the last word; an above average reading, somewhat as I might imagine we might get from Abbado on one of his more dramatic days.

For the Faust Overture Cantelli pours it on a bit, and gives us a reading with more passion and sweep than the Rienzi, but still not something unforgetable. By this point it's clear he can conduct Wagner as well as his German contemporaries, at least in concert. Given that we're talking about all those K conductors, perhaps a high point in Wagner conducting when one adds the old masters, Furtwangler, Toscanini and not to be forgotten, though he was villainously overlooked as a Wagnerian, Stowkowski. Cantelli's is an impressiver achievement, especially for so young a leader.

The Parsifal Good Friday Morning was a specialty of Toscanini, and I cannot say Cantelli surpasses his mentor. He does continue to achieve impressive concentration from the orchestra; Cantelli's gift for sustaining long lyric lines makes this selection an excellent fit for him.
Again, throughout these Wagner selections Cantelli seems quite at home with the music, with few if any stylistic odditites or quirks.

The music from Siegfried's Rhein Journey finds him at his best, and it's a considerable best. The live performance helps and along with marvelous skills in leading the orchestra he also brings tremendous passion and an almost rapturous elation. People sometimes ask me for an example of imagination in conducting: I would suggest this shows a great deal of that precious and oh so desired commodity. This is why collectors keep testing the waters for these old performances - like Italian sports cars, or old Burgundy - for all the disappointments the highs can almost seem worth all the trouble.

The last selection on the CD is the Siegfried Idyll with Dennis Brain as an added special attraction. Cantelli opts for a large scale in this work, and again is certainly in his element, but I'm rather prejudiced; frankly I prefer a more intimate approach to what after all is music Wagner based on a lullaby and performed by a small string group as a surprise for his wife on a Christmas Eve morning. On fairness, if you prefer this work in its full orchestra garb you might like Cantelli's large scale way with this music more than I do.

Are several good and one great performance worth the tariff? You'll have to make the call.

Perhaps another company will or has issued this performance of the Rhein Journey on another CD. I certainly hope so, as at this point in the reissues game the lack of detailed discussion of where these recordings came from by IDIS is quite unacceptable."