I have to admit, I came to this album completely without any knowledge whatever of those singing, or even of the conductor. What a wonderful surpised awaited me. I have loved Wagner's music since my youth, especially Lohengrin and the Ring cycle. I have many well-known recordings of these works, so listening to this one (I borrowed it first from our public library) was done simply out of curiosity. I was quite prepared to be completely unimpressed.
I must say, I was pleasantly suprised, and quite greatful I decided to listen beyond my usual level of desire. The music is well played and highly romantic under the baton of John McGlinn. I have never listened to anything he ever conducted, and he has never conducted where I live. What a treat! I have to say, he understands this music well. Of course, all the volume and excitement normally found in Wagner's opera recordings are there, and the added bonus of it all sounding incredibly unified and lyrical. Lohengrin is one of Wagner's most lyrical scores, and of course, that helps, but Siegfried is not noted for its lyrical moments, yet, even the forging song and all the forging of the sword have great lyric quality when conducted by this conductor. The flow of the music is wonderful constantly looking forward to what is to come. The orchestra is well balanced and even the loud passages never overpower the singers, who by the way, are not recorded too far forward. McGlinn completely understands Wagner may have been a revolutionary, but he still had his roots in good old fashioned lyricism.
Now to the singers. I have to say to those who are familiar with these singers, forgive my ignorance regarding them. I had heard of neither of them, or actually, none of them (there are three singers on this disk: two tenors and a soprano). Adam Klein's MIME I found quite interesting, very sinister where needed, and not the usual nasal bleating one often hears in this role. The man may be an evil dwarf, but he is not robbed of vocal quality. He portrays his character quite well.
The obvious "lead" in this recording is John Horton Murray. Now, I find his tenor voice simply delightful. It has the lightness and lyrical quality we often associate with voice of the Bel Canto repertoire, and one we NEVER hear in Wagner. His voice is delightful and youthful in sound. It is not a heroic voice like we are familiar with in other well-known Wagnerian tenors, and there is no "dark baritone" in it like is often found. However, even lacking those qualities normally associated with a heroic tenor, the voice itself carries well. It is never forced, and it flows forth over the orchestra without strain. He has a wonderful legato, and he uses it well (and such a legato is seldom hear in Wagner, if at all). There are times his legato is so smooth one almost thinks he is singing so freely he is not involved with his music. However, that is not the case. It is just he also uses a portamento style occasionally (and when portamento is asked for in the score, a thing seldom respected by singers or conductors alike) which nearly takes on a long lyric sweeping quality we would expect in Puccini or Verdi. It is strange to hear a Siegfried singing his forcing song with such smooth and long flowing lines. We never associate that style with this piece, though why we don't is not because Wagner didn't write it that way, it is because it is never sung that way. The only complaint I have is occasionally, and I mean extremely occasionally, he is so suave in his approach that he nearly seems to lack vitality. I found this unusual at first, especially since the singing is so good. Then I figured it all out. I was so used to hearing very evident strain and a sort of declamatory barking in certain parts of the music I never realized that is not what Wagner wrote. Suddenly I was hearing long legato lines, portamentos where Wagner wrote them, and no barking. Horton Murray certain does accent well, so you are not going to hear a lifeless performance, but he doesn't violate his techique nor his voice when doing so. And the music is much better for it.
His Lohengrin was by far better than his Siegfried, but that is because that Italianate lyrical approach is better served in Lohengrin.
His Soprano, Margaret Jane Wray, was also a revelation. Here we have a lovely lyric voice with the power of a Brunhilde, but without any of the sharpness or the strain. Her voice, even in the middle and lower reaches, carried over the orchestra like a wave of sound. For those who compare voices, her's is not unlike Jane Eaglen, that is in grandeur, but in quality, it is by far superior. There is no hollow emptiness to her sound. It is well focused and never strained. He diction (as with all the men) is superb, I mean superb. Her voice never goes wild when approaching notes above the staff, and it is very caressing to the ear. Now don't let that cause you to think she has no life. Quite the contrary. Her voice is highly dramatic, and extremely emotional, she just never strains it, nor twists it out of shape to achieve her dramatic ends.
The CD was well worth the money, and because I was impressed with it, I went out and bought it. I really wish these singers would record some complete opera, may I suggest for Wray SENTA in the flying dutchman. Most of the Senta's on record are painful to listen too: far too screamy and even Deborah Voigt didn't improve the role, even though she was not screamy.
A great buy and a great recording.