Being a great lover of Wagner's works, I am always glad to see new releases, and always interested in where their place is in the pantheon of great recordings that have come before. We are, indeed, fortunate to have recently had two wonderful new recordings...a really good Ring from Bayreuth with Thielemann, and this spectacular new Lohengrin from Cologne with Bychkov.
I was aware of this new SACD release for some time, and sort of "noted" it in my mind to follow up on it. I had read some early reviews and moved on to other items. Then, it came up as a nomination for the Gramophone Awards, making it to the Finals....and, now, it is also a Finalist for the BBC Awards, soon to be announced. With these two recognitions, I decided to wake up and take notice, so I bought it, and a happy listener I am, Indeed!
This recording is an honest bewilderment to me. It "came out of nowhere", with an "unknown cast" (basically), and further, from an "unknown" conductor, with an orchestra one would just not think of for a work like this. This brought on my original hesitancy in purchasing it earlier in the year. Happily for us, this is one of those supreme moments when everything simply comes together, and the total is so much more than the sum of all of its individual parts. Bychkov has brought a near "dream cast" together, and coached and honed them to a level of near perfection. Here we have truly beautiful singing and playing, a shining documentation of what this ensemble has been able to bring together for these performances, luckily for us, recorded; and further, in multi-channel SACD!
Botha, whom I had not previously even heard of, certainly has already made a great mark with this magnificent performance as Lohengrin, and one can only hope for more roles in the Wagner canon from him. I certainly, for one, do wish him well, and all the best in what looks to be a wonderful future. He possesses a remarkably fine voice, which bodes well for the future of Wagner's heldentenor roles. Soft and gentle...tender even, in those places when called for, and also strong and broadly masculine in the more dramatic and declamatory ones. He is not, of course (nor I guess we could not hope for), another Sandor Konya.
Pieczonka as Elsa is also new to me, and like Botha, she fills her role beautifully. She has a distinctness in her voice that fits Elsa's strangeness and gives her great dimension. Her assuredness in her presentation, beautifully sung, is thrilling to hear. Best, when she makes her voice go dark; once she realizes what she has brought about, her remorse is deeply moving.
Lang as Otrud is very well done, and she is certainly not lacking in her fiery hatred and bitterness, although she is somewhat lightweight (it is hard not to think of Varnay or Ludwig in this role). Struckmann gives us a second take as Telramund having sung the role before for Barenboim a few years back. Of course, he is dark and malicious and connivingly excellent.
The secondary parts are all nicely done, without any weak links anywhere, further adding a wonderful polish on this remarkable project. The choral work, so important to this opera, is just exemplary...I have never ever been so struck by any previous ensemble in this opera...it's lovely.
Bychkov, at the helm, has truly done a wonderful job bringing, and holding, all these elements together. His take is just right with his timing, nothing rushed, yet certainly forceful and dramatic and tender and lush everywhere one would wish for. He truly gets some inspired and gorgeous playing from his forces here, excitingly captured in SACD multi channel! In addition, he gives back to his Lohengrin the WHOLE Grail Narrative, which exists on only 3 recordings, counting this one. He has also restored all other usual cuts to the score to their proper places, which alone makes this a Must-Have recording.
This is a recording of Lohengrin to treasure,
Honored by both Gramophone and BBC magazines with nods for Best Opera Recording (runner-up with Gramophone, WINNER with BBC Magazine), this Lohengrin is simply wonderful...a must-have for your collection. It belongs on any serious Wagner lover's shelves...right up there with those of Knappertsbusch, Cluytens, Sawallisch and Kempe.
~ I just received an email from BBC Magazine with a recap and an update from the end of the 2010 Record Awards, and I now find that this recording went on to become DISC OF THE YEAR in addition to OPERA RECORDING OF THE YEAR!
You Simply MUST hear this recording for yourself...it is Magnificent!