Magazine article The Spectator

Vintage Wagner

Magazine article The Spectator

Vintage Wagner

Article excerpt

My focus for some recent revisits to the Wagnerian oeuvre has naturally been the Prom performance of Die Walküre (reviewed opposite by Michael Tanner); this thrilling event arouses the old ache, 'again, for the first time' as Nietzsche said, to embark upon the entire epic, in order, with time to recover and prepare between all its ten acts. Meanwhile, I've been trawling the archives of the other three canonic music-dramas to find pure old gold from yesteryear.

Whereas Tristan is timeless (though I suppose that internal evidence - nighthunt, flowery bank for al fresco amours, linden tree whose gentle shade cannot ameliorate the hero's delirious raving - might affix a seasonal pattern), Parsifal homes in on a Good Friday spring morning; and Mastersingers is specifically placed and dated - Nuremberg, mid 16th century, the first two acts during morning, twilight and night of Midsummer Eve, the third on Midsummer Day. The lindens of Hans Sachs's celebrated monologue are palpable in foliage, rustle, scent. We've learnt, resentfully, to do without nature in the other two works; even in the Ring, posited through all four of the cycle, are animals, vegetation, minerals, not to mention the four elements. But an abstract/conceptual Mastersingers ought to be forbidden by law!

Oldest of the golden oldies are sizeable stretches of Parsifal, provenance Berlin 1927 and Bayreuth 1928-9, under the venerable Karl Muck. They comprise about half of Act I, five minutes only from II (the flowermaidens); and III complete save one brief passage, sadly among the work's sublimest, since it goes straight from the end of the Prelude to the hero's first words, as he lifts his black visor, thus missing his mysterious arrival and the old man's reproach turning to wonderment as recognition dawns.

The specialness of these recordings has always been acknowledged. Beneath sizzle and crackling the sound, as remastered by Opal, is clear, bright and full. It can indeed be searing, not inopportune, in the Act I Transformation, notable, too, for march-momentum certainty underlying the climactic convulsions, drawing the listener ever upward through a rite of passage. True, the bells sound like bedsprings; the male chorus is right in your face from the start (no gradual procession from the depths to the front in 1928!), breathing wurst and beer even before communicating in bread and wine, after which succour they are heartier still - football vassals on the rampage. All true! Yet the overall effect, though always robust, is also unembarrassedly elevated and spiritual in the highest: no faery pallor, or Boulezy down-playing. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.