11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
This is an interesting and worthwhile disk of Wagner rarities, offering the _Rienzi_, _König Enzio_, _Das Liebesverbot_, _Die Feen_, _Christolph Columbus_ and _Faust_ overtures.
These are mostly minor pieces, and mostly attractive, as well as being fascinating products of a brash young genius learning his trade. The _Rienzi_ overture is the best-known piece, and perhaps the least "minor". Still, the best piece here is probably the _Faust_ overture. This tautly dramatic piece imitates Beethoven and Weber, as Wagner does in most of his early work, but also establishes an interesting darkness in harmony, and reveals skill in building up tension, which shows Wagner starting to find his own voice. Wagner said that it was with the _Faust_ overture that he first "became Wagner", and he was right. (By the way the cover gives the Faust overture's timing as 12 minutes, 19 seconds. Actually it's 12' 15". It's not that there are four seconds of music missing from the CD; it's just a misprint.)
The best disk of early Wagner overtures I know is from a two-CD set by Marek Janowski. One CD, with the French Radio Phil, offers mainstream Wagner excerpts from _Tannhäuser_, _Tristan_, _Lohengrin_ and _Meistersinger_, plus _Siegfried Idyll_, all very well played. But disk 2, with the London Symphony Orchestra, offers some rarities: the _Kaisermarsch_, the _Faust Overture_, the _Huldigungsmarsch_, the _Die Feen_ overture, the _American Centennial March_ and the _Das Liebesverbot_ overture. Janowski's may be the best account of the _Faust_ overture (also performed by Rahbari on this Naxos disk) that I know of. Janowski also offers better versions of the _Die Feen_ and _Das Liebesverbot_ overtures, while the versions in the Sawallisch complete recordings of these two early Wagner operas are better still. But the Rahbari/Malaga Phil performances of each of these pieces are still perfectly satisfactory in every way.
And, still with other performances of Wagner rarities, the world premier recording of the _König Enzio_ overture, also on this Naxo disk, was released in 2001 by the Robert Schumann Philharmonic Chemnitz under Oleg Caetani. That also offers a better performance than the Malaga Phil under Rahbari, though Rahbari and crew are perfectly good. The Caetani disk is worth having not only for the _König Enzio_ overture, which at the time wasn't available elsewhere, but also for the original version of Wagner's Prelude to Tannhäuser_ Act III, which is longer and more complex, and in my opinion better, than the better known, later, version. In more familiar territory the Caetani disk also offers a rattling good _Fliegende Holländer_ overture, and good performances of the _Lohengrin_ Acts I and III preludes, the _Tannhäuser_ overture, a "Walkürenritt" and the _Meistersinger_ overture.
So where Rahbari and the Malaga Phil duplicate these earlier disks, the performances are good but not quite as good. But this is still a great collection of Wagner rarities, on which every piece is well played.
Moreover, as far as I know Rahbari offers the only performance of the _Christolph Columbus_ overture on the market. This is an attractive piece, with a lot of heroic trumpeting about and a couple of "bold mariner" type themes, competently handled by the young Wagner. By the way, Cosima's Diary notes that Wagner once heard Rubinstein playing an arrangement of Mendelsohnn's _Calm Seas and Prosperous Voyage_ overture, and remarked [quote from memory], "that's my _Christolph Columbus_ overture! What a thief I was as a young man!"
While I'd agree with Wagner that his younger self pinched ideas from all over the place, and the older composer was still prepared to help himself to the odd good thing, on this particular occasion I think Wagner accused himself falsely. Both overtures are excellent, but they are two independent pieces of music.
I strongly recommend this disk, especially at the Naxos price, to people wanting to explore some early, mostly minor but mostly attractive, Wagner.