Track Listings: Discs 1-3 Der Fliegender Holldnder Discs 4-6 Tannhduser Discs 7-9 Lohengrin Discs 10-13 Tristan und Isolde Discs 14-17 Die Meistersinger von N|rnberg Discs 18-21 Parsifal Bonus CD: The Birth of an Opera (Solti in rehearsal of Tristan und Isolde)
SUPERB WAGNER COLLECTION
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Whew! It took me a long time listening before I feel I am able to review this collection. In a set as large as this Wagner collection, it is inevitable that there will be some 'weak links'. But I am happy to say that in every single opera, including the 'weak links', there is something to look forward to. Der Fliegende Hallander: I think this is the weakest among the 6 operas in the collection. But the orchestral playing is simply fabulous. Listen to the opening where the Chicago orchestra plays with knife-edge precision. Klemperer's Philharmonia (much recommended and praised by Gramophone) sounds like mud in comparison in the opening bars. Interestingly enough, the Penguin Guide rates the Solti more highly than the Klemperer. The vocal performance here is excellent, nothing exceptional. Tannhauser: This is a simply superb performance. Christa Ludwig is incredible in the role of Venus. You have to listen to her to believe it!! Her top notes are secure and warm and her voice is incredibly beautiful and thrilling - the tension and excitement are always there. She is the biggest reason for the success of this set. Helga Dernesch provides a superb contrast to Christa Ludwig. Dernesch timbre is different - brighter and more 'angelic'. She is the other big reason for this tannhauser's success. Rene Kollo has a thrilling voice, he gives an outstanding performance that has been unfairly criticized. Victor Braun also has a rich and thrilling voice. Lohengrin: Jessye Norman's voice here is ravishingly beautiful. It is a warm, noble, light in timbre yet rich. Her top register is incredible. Her characterization has been criticized but I don't care, I love Jessye Norman's voice. Domingo provides a beautiful tone (as usual) for Lohengrin. Unidiomatic? Again, I don't care. His voice is beautiful. Randova and Minsgern are outstanding as Ortrud and Telramund. Hans Sotin and Fischer-Dieskau sing gloriously as the King and the herald. You can't ask for anyone better. Tristan and Isolde: This is the more controversial set in this collection. Contrary to what the Gramophone says, I think this is an outstanding set (the Penguin Guide agrees with me by awarding this set 3 stars). But Birgit Nilsson is splendid as Isolde. Here she is younger and her voice is really cutting. Critics say she is 'hard'. But I think her voice is simply thrilling.In vocal terms, her voice is simply thrilling and wonderful to hear. Fritz Uhl is underrated by critics. In the studio he is up to task. His Act 3 for instance, is sung with just as much security as Windgassen in the Bohm set. Tom Krause, Aronold van Mill and Ernst Kozub are in superb voice - all rich and wonderful to listen to. The orchestral playing is superb - sumptuous and full - you won't get so much orchestra anywhere else - this is unique to this Tristan! This was recorded just one year after Nilsson's triumph at the Met - and shows her voice in pristine condition. Her voice her is more like a sharp sword. As her career progressed, her voice grew in warmth (although no less powerful). It is fascinating (and thrilling) to hear her voice when younger. Birgit Nilsson alone is worth this set!!Die Meistersingers: This is a glorious set. Everyone in the cast provides first class singing - all with rich voices. From a vocal point of view, this set is absolutely gorgeous. From the characterization point of view, this set is less characterful. Many of the principals do not delve deeply enough into their character. But in my view, their vocal splendour makes up for their less insightful characterization. Solti takes a 'linear' approach to the score, tempi flows smoothly. There is less of the sometimes 'vertical' stop-go approach that he applies in his recordings. The Chicago Chorus is outstanding beyond belief. I was flabbergasted by the excellence of the choral work at the end of Act 2. You just have to listen to it. Parsifal: Parsifal is a slow score. I think Solti goes too slow at times - the performance tends to sag in Act 1 again. But he has a superb cast - the singing is incredible. Christa Ludwig's Kundry is again superlative - her Kundry is one of the high points of this set. The Flower Maidens are simply gorgeous - their singing is also one of the high points of this set - Lucia Popp and Kiri Te Kanawa among them!!!! The orchestral playing is superb (as usual). Gottlob Frick is incredible - he is in superb voice, rich and sonorous, amazing considering he was 64 when this recording was made!! He was older than Hans Hotter and there's no hint of strain in his voice!! Fischer-Dieskau can be counted on not only for his rich baritone voice but his superb characterization. Hans Hotter is luxury casting. Rene Kollo is thrilling as Parsifal - his voice is rich and rings out wonderfully. The weakness in this is is Solti's sometimes too slow conducting - it sags from time to time (thankfully not too often). But it is more than made up by the incredible cast on this recording. The choral work is fabulous.In sum, I think this is an outstanding opera collection. In every set, there is something to look forward to. Many of the best Wagnerian singers are here - Christa Ludwig, Helga Dernesch, Birgit Nilsson, Hans Hotter, Gottlob Frick, Rene Kollo etc. Highly recommended."
Part 1 of Comments
(5 out of 5 stars)
"LOHENGRIN ANALYSIS:Lohengrin. My goodness, the singing here is simply gorgeous. Jessye Norman is in superb voice and her voice rings out gloriously throughout the opera. Domingo has been criticized for his German diction. But don't forget that Lohengrin is supposed to be a foreigner. Besides, his beautiful golden tone more than makes up for the unidiomatic diction. With such wonderful singing from Domingo, you just forget any shortcomings with respect to diction and related stuff. Besides, a lot of listeners do not know German (I don't) so they won't really care. Contrary to popular beliefs, Wagner loved beautiful singing. Many will be astounded to know that Bellini was one of his favorite composers. Did you know that Brunhilde's battle cry "Hoyotoho!" HAVE TRILLS WRITTEN IN THEM!!!!! YES!! Birgit Nilsson doesn't sing the trills. Almost no Brunnhilde ever attempts the trills. Only exception is Gwyneth Jones. Yes, contrary to popular belief, Wagner has some elements of Bel Canto written in them. Wagner's music has been subject to much abuse - singers singing it in a rough way. the Solti set shines out for the wonderful legato lines by Domingo, Norman, Randova et. al. It is simply a ravishing performance. No doubt one of Solti's most beautiful Wagner recording. I am not suprised that the Penguin Guide once gave this opera a rosette. Finally, instead of a tenor and a soprano with pressed shrill sound and a forced out tone, we have sensuous, beautiful, gorgeous legato lines - ravishing tone poured out minute after minute, underscored beautifully by the incomparable VPO and Solti's lively conducting - the tempi never sags but Solti never drives the music hard either.More comments on other sets to come in time...."
Part 2: DIE MEISTERSINGER Analysis
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Solti's Die Meistersingers is without doubt one of the best in the catalogue. His conducting is lively and very animated, and all the singers sing very beautifully - they all have beautiful voices. As with ANY wagner opera recording, there are drawbacks. Firstly, the orchestra and singers are really recorded too closely to each other - there is a lack of space in between orchestra, singer and chorus. Secondly, the microphones were placed too close, again, to singers, chorus and orchestra. This has to do with the recording venue - Orchestra Hall in Chicago - which does not allow the singers, chorus and orchestra to be spaced out nicely. So the sound is slightly unpleasant - but you can mitigate that by turning the volume down a little. It does help. Having said that, the digital sound is very full and vivid, all the details are beautifully captured by Decca's engineers. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is absolutely gorgeous - they play beautifully and articulate clearly. Having said that, you notice that the Chicago forces lack something that the Vienna Philharmonic possesses. Call it the X-factor. The Vienna Philharmonic is an opera orchestra - they play under the name Vienna State opera orchestra at the Vienna State Opera. But in concert and in recordings, they assume the name Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Anyway, being an opera orchestra, the Vienna Philharmonic certainly knows how to play opera music better than the Chicago Symphony. The Chicago forces, though technically wonderful, lack that extra X-factor in their playing. I think it has to do with injecting emotion into the playing. The end result is that although the Chicago Symphony plays beautifully, the playing is sometimes a bit bland, and you miss the kind of frisson an opera orchestra provides. Mattila sings very beautifully as Eva - she is one of the highlights of the performance. the other highlight is Ben Heppner who is wonderful in his singing and phrasing. Van Dam is excellent as Hans Sachs. All the other principals are never less than adequate although they are a bit detached. Having said all that, this is still one of the best Die Meistersingers in the catalogue. But you have to listen to it over a long period of time before you can appreciate it properly. I only began to really enjoy the performance after spending over a year listening to it (in between other things). But that's only because I listen to tons of other music. I guess if you just concentrate on Die Meistersinger, it might take a shorter time.There's always this talk about the K's in Die Meistersinger - Karajan, Kubelik, Kempe. Well, Kempe is in MONO, Karajan's 1951 performance is in MONO, Kubelik's recorded sound is not very nice - on the hard side. I guess Jochum and Karajan's stereo would be good alternative, but this version can hold its own against those two. Unless you are a Wagner freak (in which case, you should just buy them all), this is perfectly fine as a sole representation of Die Meistersinger in your collection."
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a set of extremely high quality Wagner recording. I can say that not every opera in this set is the best of the individual opera available. However, the standards are extremely high in general. Tannhauser, Lohengrin, Parsifal and Miestersinger would rank among the very best sets available. 'Best' is of course subjective - it depends on a persons' taste. In general, Decca has tried very hard to assemble the best possible cast in each set so that the quality of the singing is very high. Tristan & Isolde is unique among the Tristan sets available. The most unique feature is that the orchestra is balanced very well forward. So the good thing with this set is that unlike many other Tristan sets where you cannot hear the orchestra sometimes, here you can hear the details. The sound is very 'full'. The conducting is not the best available but this is a very important historic document because it shows how Birgit Nilsson, arguably the greatest Isolde in the second half of this century, developed over the years. The Penguin Guide gives this Tristan 3 stars. Gramophone magazine kind of bashes this Tristan somewhat. So the views on Tristan are not so consistent."
A FITTING TRIBUTE TO WAGNER
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Solti's Tannhauser is considered a classic. The performance follows the Paris Edition with the extended Venusberg scene and lush post-Tristan harmonies. Christa Luldwig's Venus is of exceptional distinction. Her performance here places her above all her rivals. It is one of the Gramophone's great performances. Dernesch's Elsa is also marvellous. Together the two female protagonists make a formidable pair. Rene Kollo puts in an outstanding performance as Tannhauser. Fabulous playing from the Vienna Philharmonic. The choral work is superb. Solti uses boy sopranos for the choruses which adds to the realism. Solti's conducting is very exciting and the tempo never sags. A first recommendation. Solti's Parsifal is also considered a classic. As expected, Christa Ludwig's Kundry is perfect. Her musicianship and declamatory skills place her way above the top of all her rivals. The cast is very even from the highest voice (the lovely soprano Lucia Popp) to the great bass (Hans Hotter). Rene Kollo as Parsifal is excellent. Longherin featues the great Jessye Norman as Elsa and legendary Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. The performance is stunning. Jessye Norman's voice is rich and rings out marvellously at climaxes. In particular, at the end of Act 1 chorus, her voice rings out gloriously and thirllingly above the chorus at the choral climax - something which I find myself searching it out over and over again. Solti is a victim of ill-humoured british reviewers. Solti never liked Longherin (that's why it was his last recorded Wagner opera). That makes him a target for British reviewers. However, listening to the recording, I can say that this is simply one of the best performances of Longherin in the discography. The digital recording is full and marvellous. Tempi are leisurely and flowing - Solti in a relaxed state of mind. Die Meistersinger was recorded at a concert in the late 1990's. it was the only Wagner opera that Solti recorded twice. And it is fabulously sung. The performance gains from the live ambience and Decca engineers did a terrific work to eliminate unwanted noise - there's practically none. The difficult choral work at the end of Act 2 is outstanding - simply superb and beyond reporach - definitely the best in the discography. Just listen to it and you will be thrilled. When I heard it I was stunned - how can it be possible for a choir to sing with such knife edge precision. But yes, it features the Chicago Symphony Chorus at their level best and I find myself going back to that segment to listen to the thrilling choral singing.The Flying Dutchman is the 'weaker' set in this cycle. But the performance is still nothing less then excellent - Solti is viscerally thrilling. In particular, the Chicago brass section deserves speical mention in this recording - they are MAGNIFICENT bar none. The overture also deserves a special mention - it is superbly played. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra plays with incredible knife-edge precision and virtuosity. I've heard the Philharmonia Orchestra playing the overture, and the Philharmonia sounds like mud in comparison - imprecise ensemble. That is not to say that they are bad but to say that the better is the enemy of the good. After hearing Solti's CSO playing the overture, you can hardly accept any other orchestra. The overture alone is worth the price of this set. The Tristan and Isolde features the incomparable Birgit Nilsson. Although not the best in the discography, this set is underrated by some reviewers. It is not as bad as some reviewers seem to put it. Birgit Nilsson just triumphed in New York in 1959 with Tristan and Isolde. This set gives you a picture of her interpretation right then because this set was recorded in 1960. Nilsson's tireless and astonishing vocal prowess will pin your ears back! The climax of the Liebestod comes out thrillingly. At key points, the performance is absolutely thrilling. Solti is quite slow in certain parts but the orchestra is well-forward so that the orchestral music brings you forward in the slower sections. Overall, an excellent cycle. If you are considering buying the entire Wagner series, you're probably going to end up with most of these sets anyway so this cycle is probably the best in the market. And at an incredible bargain price too! I highly recommend this set."