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Wagner: Lohengrin
Richard [Classical] Wagner, Lovro von Matacic, Bayreuth Festival Orchestra
Wagner: Lohengrin
Genre: Classical
 
  •  Track Listings (12) - Disc #1
  •  Track Listings (15) - Disc #2
  •  Track Listings (12) - Disc #3


      
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CD Reviews

A Golden Age treasure for lovers of this opera
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 10/23/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"By consensus the Fifties was a Golden Age for opera, and this 1959 Lohengrin from Bayreuth could be offered as prime testimony. I have little to add to the unstinting praise given below. Every role is filled almost ideally -- the Herald of Eberhard Waechter is as world-class as the King or Telramund. One advantage of a festival is that star casting can be lavished throughout. Grummer had already established herself as the major Elsa in Germany, and every opera house in the world clamored for the sweet-toned Sandor Konya, with his miraculous blend of lyrical beauty and power. In Wagner we haven't seen his like since, excepting only Ben Heppner.

Having gone back to the original Bavarian Radio tapes, Orfeo's sonics are exceptional; they have also remastered them to eliminate microphone distortion and hiss. The Bayreuth orchestra sounds a tad boxy and muffled, but the voices are up close and well captured. The overall effect is like hearing a superb FM braodcast. There are few stage noises (Wieland Wagner's abstract production featured no stage sets or machinery).

Fanciers of the opera won't hesitate to buy this set, despite the absence of libretto and the most tedious, long-winded liner notes imaginable. Given all its merits, is this the best Lohengrin on records? Vocally, the answer is yes. But expert as he is, von Matacic doesn't conduct with inspiration. Solti and Abbado both exhibit greater dramatic tension and musical variety. In turn, they bring out more vivid characterizations from their lead singers than is heard here. And modern stereo far outshines dated mono, of course.

But these are quibbles. Any Lohengrin featuring Konya is well worth hearing. Among the three or four now available (including a tempting RCA Living Stereo version under Leinsdorf from Boston that turns out to have both dismal conducting and a rock-bottom Elsa) this one is first choice. It's a must-listen for anyone who loves the opera."
Wonderful singing and conducting - but also some fearsome co
Ralph Moore | Bishop's Stortford, UK | 08/26/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Despite the existence of many recommendable recordings of "Lohengrin", I have to agree with the previous two Amazon.com reviewers of this set that this is probably the most recommendable of all. Assembled here are some of the finest, most beautiful Wagnerian voices from the post-war Golden Age of Bayreuth. The astonishingly good sound - mono. though honestly you don't notice while listening to a performance of such intensity and clarity - that Orfeo have poduced by cleaning up the original tapes is also responsible for highlighting my only gripe: the infuriating hacking and coughing during those magical preludes and quiet passages. One particular individual needed hoiking out and gently garrotting before being quietly replaced in his seat so that others might listen in peace. Otherwise, you could not ask for more: there is no hiss, the balance between voices and orchestra is excellent and, apart from being mono, it could have been recorded yesterday - only it couldn't, because we could never today assemble anything like so distinguished a cast. Elisabeth Grümmer is fuller and richer of voice than in her later Kempe studio recording without the slight tremulousness which obtrudes there, but she is also even more delicate - just perfect. Konya is a dream in his combination of heroic thrust and melting beauty of tone; this is a performance to rank alonside his studio "Meistersinger" conducted by Kubelik (see my review); Crass is in fine, bronze voice as the king; Gorr chillingly on the edge as Ortrud in an impersonation to rival those of Gwyneth Jones (again for Kubelik in another studio recording) and Astrid Varnay for Sawallisch; Blanc is a crazed and somehow sympathetic and pitiable (compared with his demonic wife) Telramund to rival that of Ramon Vinay; finally, a young Eberhard Waechter shines as a noble, virile Herald. The chorus and orchestra are superb and I like Matacic's conducting more than the Santa Fe listener: he is certainly more leisurely and deliberate than we are used to, but does not lack intensity; certain passages glow with sincerity - when the coughers let us hear them uninterrupted. There is a kind of massive certainty to this reading and everything gels to explain why "Lohengrin" was always so popular and make it seem like the greatest work Wagner every wrote - just listen to the thrilling swell of the chorus "Gesegnet soll sie schreiten" (track 11, CD2) just before Ortrud goes for Elsa's jugular.

For reasons of the mono sound and the bronchial intrusions, I would not necessarily place this above the Kempe or Kubelik studio recordings for someone's first library choice; both of those are very fine and also very strongly cast, but in terms of sheer artistry and as a complete dramatic experience, this live 1959 account is superior to the live 1953 Keilberth, the live 1954 Jochum (which I found disappointing despite the stellar line-up) and even to the superb, live Sawallisch 1962 Bayreuth performance (see my reviews). But oh - those coughers!"