wagner lohengrin decca

Déjà Review: this review was first published in February 2003 and the recording is still available.

Richard Wagner (1813-1883)
Hans Sotin (bass) – The King of the Germans
Placido Domingo (tenor) – Lohengrin
Jessye Norman (soprano) – Elsa von Brabant
Siegmund Nimsgern (bass) – Telramund
Eva Randova (alto) – Ostrud
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone) – The King’s Herald
Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor
Wiener Philharmoniker/Sir Georg Solti
rec. 1985/86, Sofiensaal, Wien
Decca 470 795-2 [4 CDs: 223]

This release is a part of Decca’s massive re-mastered Wagner Collection of all the Solti operas excluding The Ring. The only thing about this box, is that since it was originally recorded digitally, there has been no need for extensive re-processing unlike the earlier recordings. The original recording was always very good, and so I cannot discern any great difference between the original and this release.

When it was originally released, it was very well received and not much has changed today. The primary competition comes from the Rudolf Kempe set on EMI. In direct comparison the Decca set wins hands down. It is arranged so that the acts are divided between the discs in such a way that there is only one mid-Act break whereas the EMI set issued on three discs has each Act broken by a disc change. The same consideration applies to the Karajan version (also EMI) although the performance is not quite in the same class as the previous two.

Those who find Solti usually highly charged and fiery can rest assured that this set is a revelation in this respect. I haven’t heard such a relaxed interpretation of Wagner from these forces and it was quite a surprise. The Prelude to Act Three promised to be a very exciting experience. I was expecting the normally jabbing Solti to make a real meal of it; instead we have quite a “normal” reading of the prelude, and this characterises the whole performance.

The main item which usually causes heated discussions between fans of the composer is the choice of singers. There is no less of a problem here, as nearly all of the available sets are equally strong and weak in places; you pays your money and you takes your choice. Kempe’s set has Jess Thomas, Elisabeth Grummer, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Christa Ludwig, as the main singers. Fischer-Dieskau sings in both, but taking the part of The King’s Herald in the Solti, and as Telramund in the Kempe. The main beauty of the Decca set is Placido Domingo and I suspect that his many fans will not need any persuasion to go out and buy this set for this reason alone.

There are a couple of more modern sets also available, conducted by Claudio Abbado (DG), and Daniel Barenboim (Teldec). Neither of these offers significant competition to the Decca and EMI sets. In the final analysis what may swing it for you is the recording quality. Whereas the Kempe set, (beautifully sung and played) is re-mastered from a rather old analogue recording, the Decca sounds as good as any in sparkling digital sound. Add to this the singing of Placido Domingo, who although not at the peak of his singing career (which fell some 5–6 years earlier) was still good enough to be superb in the part of Lohengrin. There is not a trace of the Heldentenor type of voice normally heard in this part, more a plainly lyrical sound which I find very appealing. For fans of Domingo, as soon as he opens his mouth, it could be none other that Domingo, which is all his many fans will want.

Decca’s production is superb, with full synopsis and libretto. My only small carp is that the set is issued at full price. It comes in at a lower price if you purchase all of the operas in the Solti-Wagner set.

John Phillips

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