Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
|Plácido Domingo, Thomas Mohr, Siegmund Nimsgern|
Wagner: Lohengrin / Solti
The best all-round Lohengrin
Ryan Kouroukis | Toronto, Ontario Canada | 10/24/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This Solti set is among the finest Lohengrin recordings out there, he achieves a perfect balance between the action and the flow. Domingo is truly a Lohengrin with a heart, I remember reading once that "he sings as if he has the Grail stuck in his throat"! The others in the cast are excellent. Jessye Norman, Dietrich-Fischer, Sotin and Nimsgern ideally fit their roles and truly make this a Lohengrin for all to love and enjoy.
The Decca sound is fantastic and Solti's interpretation is well-nigh definitive. He totally captures the mystery and atmosphere of the score which is wonderful.
If you're looking for a reputable and outstanding set, this is it!"
The current batch of Lohengrin recordings
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 01/22/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Whenever I offer comparative reviews here of great and lengthy works, I try to have as many versions at hand as possible. But in the case of Lohengrin, most listeners, including myself, stop after reading that the best recording, far and away, is Kempe's on EMI, with Jess Thomas in the title role and Elisabeth Grummer as Elsa. As it happns, I have problems with that set: Thomas sounds heroic and youthful, but he also bleats a little too much and forces his voice in the great climaxes. Grummer sounds touchingly innocent--she's a light, lyric Elsa who hasn't grown up yet--but the fast beat in her voice bothered me. I also don't accept that Kempe's conducting is the last word on the score.
As a result I have chased across the landscape for a better, if not ideal recording. My thumbnail conclusions:
Jochum/Bayreuth -- a live 1954 performance that features the young Windgassen as Lohengrin and a surpisingly supple Birgit Nilsson as Elsa. Available on several labels, this performance sounds reasonably good for broadcast mono, and the leads are worthy, but Windgassen's voice is unlovely, and Nilsson is chilly and by no means innocent-sounding. Even so, this would be one of the top recommendations if it weren't for Jochum's dull, unimaginative conducting. Reviewers at Amazon tend to focus solely on the singers in opera recordings; I always listen first to the conductor, who shapes the whole work, after all. Jochum rarely rises above the routine.
Leinsdorf/ BSO -- This recently re-released Living Stereo set has remained out of print for two good reasons. The scheduled Elsa droped out and was replaced at the last minute by the totally inadequate Lucina Amara. Second, Leinsdorf's conducting veers between dullness and perversity, with tempos and phrasing that drive me up the wall. The only reason to buy this RCA recording is for Sandor Konya, the best Lohengrin of his generation (he was also the best Walther in Meistersinger), a golden-voiced delight.
Abbado/ Vienna Phil. -- This 1994 release marked Abbado's first experience conducting a Wagner opera, and he does himself proud. The socre is beautifully shaped, and the Viennese orchestra and chorus are beyond praise. Siegfried Jerusalem would have benefited from being recorded ten years earleir, but his is a very musical Lohengrin and a strong characterization. Cheryl Studer, who specialized onstage in the role of Elsa, gives one of her best (and last) recorded performances, not as fresh-voiced as a decade earleir on Philips but still gleaming and youthful. For me, this ranks as an equal to Solti's reading.
Solti/ Vienna Phil. -- With the same orchestra and chorus as Abbado's, Solti gets a more powerful, aggressive sound, abetted by an extremely vivid, dynamic recording. It's true, as others comment, that his style is not as driven, even manic as in the past, but the aggression is sitll there. Domingo is distinctly not a German tenor in style (or pronunciation), but Lohengrin was a viable stage role for him vocally, and he sings with great conviciton. Persoanly, I think he's not a patch on Konya or Jerusalem, but he's a positive force here. As for Jessye Norman, it would be silly to claim that she is trying to be a young, naive woman, or that her huge voice is right for an essentially lyric role. As always, she is regal and distant. But the sheer voluptuousness of her tone is irresistible, and she has such power that she can ride easily over the gigantic orchestra. In al, this whole produciton is a star turn, and all the stars involved are at their best.
In an ideal world Konya would return to life to record under Abbado with Grummer as Elsa and the Vienna Phil. in the pit. None of the sets above rise to that ideal, but they all have something special to offer. When next I get the Lohengrin itch, I will seek out the DG set under Kubelik with James King in the title role; it's the one major modern recording I haven't heard.
P. S. August, 2009 -- As an addendum to the above, I am adding my review of a 1959 Lohengrin from Bayreuth that feels like an answered prayer, since it features Konya with an excellent conductor. I've also heard the Kubelik, which despite its devoted fans, is crippled for me by James King's blatant, uninflected singing that carries little musical interest.
Here's the Bayreuth review:
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 oper
Different than any other, but Brilliant!
Daniel Graser | Wappingers Falls, New York United States | 04/26/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Solti's status as a Wagner conductor is perhaps more legendary than any other. His ring cycle is still by far the best, at least for me, and his numerous other recordings are all fantastic, not a clunker in the set. If I had to pick a single opera recording of his, this would be the top of them all. Realize though I am going in to this with quite a bit of bias. I have been in love with Jessye Norman's voice since I started listening to music and Placido Domingo has been my favorite tenor for just as long. The chorus is somewhat hushed on this recording, moreso than the opera calls for but this is a very minor criticism. The orchestra sounds great, lush strings and powerful brass when needed. As some reviewers have noted, Solti definitely takes his time with the tempos and is consistently a bit under the rest of the pack. However this is definitely a plus as he revails so many hidden details and phrasing opportunities that many have missed. The prelude is probably the best it's been played and the arrival of Lohengrin here will leave you awe-struck. The first appearance of the "question theme" (Nie, solst du mich erfragen) has never had such a sense of foreboding. It's understandable if you don't prefer Domingo in this repertoire, but for me he is one of the best. If you want to get someone hooked on Wagner, this is the recording. Worked for me. My favorite teacher from undergrad played the prelude from this recording on our first day in class and I have been hooked ever since."