Magazine article The Spectator

Wagner Treat

Magazine article The Spectator

Wagner Treat

Article excerpt

Tristan und Lsolde

Royal Festival Hall

Hansel und Gretel second cast

Royal Opera House

There have been few treats for lovers of Wagner in London in the past few years, but handsome amends were made in a concert at the Royal Festival Hall, with Vladimir Jurowski conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra and adequate soloists in an incandescent account of Act II of Tristan und Isolde. That was preceded by the Adagio from Mahler's Tenth Symphony, an acutely expressive performance, mainly chamber-like in texture, apart from the apocalypse near the conclusion. But it was a downer, as, alone, it is bound to be. Wonderful to return after the interval and to be launched, with the greatest possible impulse, into the central act of Tristan.

In the theatre, I have come almost to dread this act. Act I is so staggeringly dramatic, so draining, that the prolonged exaltations of Act II are hard to do justice to, for the listener as well as the performers.

And I think the love duet, so called, is the most difficult stretch of music, 40 minutes without the nefarious cut (and it was performed complete here) that Wagner wrote.

There is the Depiction of Erotic Chaos to begin with, which so easily degenerates into half-drowned shrieks; then the long stretch, amazing in its colours and its development of tiny thematic fragments, in which the lovers excoriate Day; then the sublime throbbing and immense climax of 'O' sink' hernieder, ' demanding fabulous control and power on all sides; Brangäne's watch song, the lengthy dialectic of separation and union, and on to the enormous home stretch until the still shocking climax and the scream that cuts it short. When has one heard it conducted convincingly? Only by Reginald Goodall in the theatre, perhaps at all, and now by Jurowski. He has everything that makes a great Wagner conductor, above all the temperament and the discipline.

The lovers were not great singers, but they were able to cope, mostly, and Anja Kampe took an early slip in her stride and produced some lovely phrases, never evidently tiring; her voice is not quite as large as the role requires. The same goes for Robert Dean Smith, but he is the only tenor I've heard since Siegfried Jerusalem to sing the part fairly beautifully; but his bidding of Isolde to follow him, at the act's end, lacked the poignant inwardness that this supreme passage needs. …

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