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Gramophone awards shortList 2015

Those who have not experienced Herlitzius in full flight in the theatre might be best to start off with Bel Air Classiques’ film from Aix-en-Provence. That’s because, in purely vocal terms, divorced from the remarkable physical intensity of her performance onstage, Herlitzius’s voice can take a little getting used to. It’s a slightly curdled sound, which can develop a beat. But the technique, though unusual, is solid, with Strauss’s longer lines filled out in a manner that might be best compared to long bowings on a string instrument. She hardly tires, either, and manages the Recognition scene disarmingly, indeed with beautiful lyrical generosity on both releases. She performs the role with a dramatic commitment that few singers – in any role – can match.

It is Herlitzius’s performance and the finely detailed, well-balanced conducting of Esa-Pekka Salonen (allied to brilliantly clear and exciting playing from the Orchestre de Paris) that are the main selling points of the DVD release. Patrice Chérau’s production (the final one before his death in the autumn) is a touch disappointing. It’s a very grey affair (in a very big, very grey set designed by Richard Peduzzi), which makes excessive and distracting use of the minor characters and extras. Many of the key confrontations become diffident and evasive. And it’s fussily filmed.

One of Chéreau’s innovations is to have Klytemnestra played relatively straight, rather than as the neurosis-addled monster she can be, and Waltraud Meier captures this more subtle character very well, even if the voice is short on mezzo warmth. Adrianne Pieczonka is a terrific Chrysothemis, tearing into the role with luscious tone that thins only occasionally; Mikhail Petrenko is a relatively light-voiced Orest but acts with plenty of brooding menace. The supporting cast is excellent.

A few things to note: both performances have the usual theatrical cuts, and Bel Air has opted for a dreadful old singing translation for its English subtitles. Still, with the galvanising dramatic power of Herlitzius at the heart of both releases – and much else besides – I wouldn’t want to be without either. Hugo Shirley (September 2014) Selected comparisons:  Netherlands PO, M Albrecht (4/13) (CHAL) CC72565

Wagner der fliegende holländer Terje Stensvold bar ........................................ Holländer Anja Kampe sop ....................................................... Senta Kwangchul Youn bar ........................................... Daland Christopher Ventris ten ............................................ Erik Jane Henschel mez .................................................. Mary Thomas Russell ten .......................................Steersman

WDR Radio Chorus, Cologne; Bavarian Radio Chorus; NDR Chorus; Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra / Andris Nelsons RCO Live M b RCO14004 (136’ • DDD) Recorded live at the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, May 24 & 26, 2013

Der fliegende Holländer is essentially a chamber opera about the frustrations of rejection and the best performances that have come down to us are the ones that play up this theme most. Andris Nelsons certainly obliges here with the attention he pays to the Holländer’s woes in Act 1 and the big Act 2 duet with Senta (‘Ach! Könntest das Geschick du ahnen…’), or Erik’s in his prior dream narration. The conductor and his orchestra are exciting throughout but he never attempts, pace disc rivals Solti, Karajan and Levine, to blow this score up into the later grand-operascale music drama that it isn’t. There’s always time and (musical) balance for the private moments in a basically swift traversal of the score.

It helps here that Terje Stensvold is (literally) a senior Holländer, almost three score years and ten at the time of recording. In the best possible way – try any of the monologues – he sounds intentionally like he’s been at sea a long time. You may want also to seek more vocal sap and more forza elsewhere (London and Hotter for two), but Stensvold’s enunciation of the role through the text is both moving and understanding. He sounds well opposite Kwangchul Youn’s now also highly experienced father Daland and Anja Kampe’s remarkable Senta: remarkable because she has exactly the kind of Helden-Weber soprano (bright, sensitive, penetrating, not too heavy) that this role cries out for but so rarely gets. A fine achievement. Praise is also due to Christopher Ventris’s detailed, wellunderstood Erik (never a crybaby) and the three guest German choruses. The opera is given in the ‘final’ revised (ie Tristan ending) version, although the music (very sensibly) comes to a full close at the end of Act 1 and Nelsons’s conducting is clearly aware of earlier versions and balances. Fine recording. Hugely recommended. Mike Ashman (May 2015)

Wagner

◊ Y

parsifal Jonas Kaufmann ten ..................................................Parsifal Peter Mattei bar ....................................................... Amfortas René Pape bass .................................................... Gurnemanz Katarina Dalayman sop ........................................... Kundry

Evgeny Nikitin bass-bar .......................................... Klingsor Rúni Brattaberg bass ....................................................Titurel Chorus and Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera, New York / Daniele Gatti Stage director François Girard Video director Barbara Willis Sweete Sony Classical B b ◊ 88883 72558-9; F Y 88883 72572-9 (4h 40’ • NTSC • 16:9 • DD5.1 & LPCM stereo • 0 • S) Recorded live 2013

In some respects this is a traditional Parsifal, with spears, a chalice, a grave for Titurel, a bed for

Kundry’s attempted seduction of the hero. But producer François Girard places such details in a postmodern context. First he launches the drama as if it were a rehearsal rather than the real thing, with Gurnemanz and the knights in white shirts and slacks. Then he downplays aspects that could be more naturalistic – like the pastoral idyll of the Good Friday scene – while exaggerating elements which Wagner himself presented with relative restraint; the flowing and staining effects of blood in Act 2, for example.

Significant details are inevitably lost when a darkly lit production using the full dimensions of the Metropolitan Opera stage is viewed on a small screen. I was impressed by the austere grandeur of some episodes, alienated by the abstractions elsewhere – especially in the ceremonial scenes that end Acts 1 and 3, where the vagueness of the terrain risks neutralising the impact of the enacted rituals, with their focus on Amfortas’s physical agonies.

Daniele Gatti has sometimes been accused of failing to access the proper pace and inner life of Wagner’s score; his laborious slowing down for the Act 1 transition music illustrates the problem. But there are compensations. The orchestral sound is consistently rich and resonant, and the singing is – without exception – mesmerisingly in tune with the production’s highly stylised ritualism. The impassioned intensity Jonas Kaufmann brings to Parsifal’s music is matched by the rhetorical conviction of Peter Mattei’s Amfortas and Evgeny Nikitin’s Klingsor, and complemented by the warmer qualities of Katarina Dalayman’s Kundry and René Pape’s Gurnemanz. Nevertheless, it is as if the opera’s notions of compassion and redemption are being coolly appraised rather than vigorously affirmed or contradicted. This is very much Wagner for the 21st century. Arnold Whittall (June 2014)

30 GRAMOPHONE AWARDS 2015

gramophone.co.uk

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