The World of Compact Discs

By Paterson, Anthony | Contemporary Review, May 1998 | Go to article overview

The World of Compact Discs


Paterson, Anthony, Contemporary Review


Perhaps no great composer arouses such intense enthusiasm and antipathy as Richard Wagner. The great obstacle to approaching his work is the massive size of his operas which tend to frighten new listeners. For decades we have had recordings of 'Wagner Without Words' but all too often they have been sugary and insubstantial concoctions. Suddenly we have a trio of excellent recordings from which to chose. Wagner's early triumphs came in Dresden and it is therefore fitting that the Scottish conductor, Donald Runnicles, uses the Staatskapelle Dresden for TELDEC'S selection, Der Ring Der Nibelungen Orchestral Highlights (0630-17109-2). It has all the mastery one expects from this orchestra, with the added excitement of a live performance, especially moving in the rousing 'Ride of the Valkyries.' As always Teldec's acoustics are unsurpassable. The real gem of this disc, however, is the 'Siegfried Idyll' which recreates the intimate elegance of this birthday present to the composer's wife.

The 'New Queen's Hall Orchestra' is to be praised for using period instruments from the late Victorian era when Sir Henry Wood used the original orchestra to begin his famous Promenade concerts. In CARLTON'S Wagner Overtures and Preludes (30366 00982) Barry Wordsworth has given us an inspiring selection of three overtures and three preludes. The Rienzi Overture is particularly memorable and shows Wagner in a different mood from his later works. Happily there is no competition between the Wordsworth and the Runnicles' discs as each conductor has chosen different works. While in a Wagnerian mood, it is worth mentioning another work from CARLTON. As part of its 'Carlton Classics' collection of music by the London Symphony Orchestra, there is a set which combines some basic Wagner including overtures such as Rienzi and Tannhauser and the Ride of Valkyries, with a stirring recording of Berlioz's 'Symphonie Fantastique.' On this reissued coupling of older recordings the LSO is conducted by Barry Tuckwell for the Wagner and by Richard Williams for the Berlioz.

The re-issues in the CARLTON CLASSICS series, combined with their new sets should have a particular appeal to those forming collections or looking for good recordings at moderate prices to introduce younger people to good music. One of the most notable is a two-disc collection, Johann Strauss: A Viennese Collection (30368 01127). One's only complaint is with the inaccurate title for we are given far more than just Johann the Younger. We have a stunning assemblage of the most famous waltzes, polkas and overtures of the three Strauss brothers (although none of their father) as well as two works by their rival, Carl Ziehrer. All are conducted by John Georgiadis, the best Strauss conductor in Britain. Almost alone among British conductors he knows the crucial Viennese trick of emphasising the second beat. Some of these performances are familiar from his earlier disc, 'An Evening of Strauss', but there is an added bonus in this sparkling selection, the 'Bluthenkranz Waltz' where Eduard Strauss arranged his eldest brother's most famous melodies into one single and stunning tribute.

Among other notable re-issues by CARLTON CLASSICS on their mid-price two-disc sets is an elegant performance of Handel's Messiah (30366 00887) in which Mark Brown conducts the Gloria Della Musica of Prague and the Brensky Akademicky Sbor. The four soloists, however, are all native English speakers. The tenor, James Griffett, is particularly outstanding in recitatives such as 'Comfort ye my people'. The use of period instruments and the controlled delicacy of the conducting make this one of the best sets available for those who prefer the authentic sound of Handel to the overwhelming Victorian choral tradition.

HYPERION have recently brought out three compact discs of eighteenth century music, the first two of which represent two large portions of Handel's musical legacy. The first of these is a two-disc set of his Alexander Balus (CDA 67241/2). …

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