Customer Review

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 4.5 Stars for this fine recording, far and away the best in this series and top choice for "The Dresden Version"., 18 Feb. 2013
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This review is from: Tannhauser (Audio CD)
It is quite reasonable to draw parallels between Tannhauser and Bruckner's Third Symphony, and not just because the symphony contains thematic material from the opera. Both were pivotal works in each composer's output which they returned to revise throughout their lives, and with which they were never satisfied. In the last month of his life Wagner declared "I feel I still owe the world a great Tannhauser."
Tannhauser breaks down in simple terms to two basic versions-the "Dresden" and the "Paris" (I will spare readers my usual homily about it being in reality the "Vienna" 1875 version.)
The Dresden version published finally in 1860 contains revisions Wagner made to the work in 1846 and 1847 after its 1845 premiere, whereas the Paris version originally revised in 1861 was finally published in 1875 after further revisions in Vienna that year. Pay attention, I'll be asking questions later.
If only it were that simple. Conductors and Directors have mixed and matched from the various versions with impunity-Bayreuth uses the Dresden Version but with the Paris Venusberg Music, Barenboim's Berlin Version is Dresden throughout-except that he uses the Paris opening duet between Heinrich and Venus, the solo for Walther deleted in the Paris version is frequently restored, and then of course there are cuts...! Enough already.
In recording terms the Dresden Version held sway (more or less, don't forget Bayreuth!) until 1971 when Solti recorded his blistering Vienna account, still the best version of the Paris (Vienna!) revision and still the best overall recommendation. It was a different case in the theatre, where the Dresden version was out of favour until the last decade when it returned to become the most performed option.
This new version is emphatically of the Dresden Version, and is one of only 3 other recordings available of this earlier work, the others being Konwitschny, Gerdes and Haitink. All these recordings have their strengths, but also major weaknesses, and so we have been waiting for a really fine recording to take "top spot", and in some respects this new one fulfils that role. Opinions have been divided over this series of recordings, with my own opinion not being very favourable primarily because I do not personally respond to Janowski's straightforward, brisk conducting style usually described by me as perfunctory, and by some very poor vocal performances, but in this work both of these complaints are mitigated to a large extent. Obviously this is far and away the best recorded, and is as ever well played though lacking the lush sonorities of the very best orchestras, but the sound is right and the effect is very pleasing. The "onstage "band is in this case "offstage" and is disappointingly distant, though plays with accomplishment.
The chorus is full bodied and sings well, and is recorded in excellent balance.
Janowski's style, as with Tristan, is better suited to this work and in his hands no passage outstays its welcome, and the more lyrical passages unfold tellingly.
I am pleased to say that there are no casting disasters, and each role is at least well taken, in some cases very well taken. Christian Geraher shares with Matthias Goerne the default option for casting the role of Wolfram for the last few years, and he sings a lyrical, noble characterisation with a particularly beautiful "Abendstern" soliloquy. He does occasionally drift a little off pitch, but this is not a major worry. Dohmen is a reliable enough Landgrave, and he understands the role completely.
Nina Stemme is THE Wagner heroic soprano of our time, but in truth the role of Elizabeth does not demand a Brunnhilde or an Isolde, and the ideal exponents have been Grümmer and Popp (and Janowitz on an excerpts disc under Leitner) who were both lighter of voice and more lyrical in approach, but I have to commend Stemme for using her bigger voice intelligently and giving us a thrilling "Dich Teurer Halle" and an equally moving prayer in the 3rd Act.
Smaller roles are well executed. The 2 surprises are Prudenskaja and Robert Dean Smith as Venus and Heinrich, as she is superb and he is surprisingly good. I have not heard this Russian artist previously, but I am very impressed with her radiant tone and fearless attack. The Dresden Venus is more about anger and scorn that seductiveness, though that quality is also required, and she fulfils these requirements wonderfully, and I count this is as a total success. Robert Dean Smith copes with the murderous tessitura of his role as well as any of his rivals, and his dry tone near the stave is reminiscent of the later recordings of Kollo and possibly James King, but like most victims of this role, there is a fair degree of declamatory shouting and crooning at the opposite extreme. I forgive him this in a live performance, and his Rome Narration is very impassioned and sung with firm enough tone-best not to have recently listened to the Kaufmann's Wagner excerpts disc though! He is far better than Konig, Hopf and even Windgassen on the Gerdes-the Sawallisch is currently unavailable though it is due to be reissued soon.
I count this set as a success overall, certainly the best in this Pentatone series, and it does now form the best recommendation for the Dresden version of this work. However, I prefer the later version of the work for all its supposed inconsistencies of style and on an "all comers" basis the Solti remains the top recommendation, and the Sinopoli is also very fine.
In modern terms with the resources available this new recording deserves 5 stars, and in the overall scheme of things 4 stars-so I'll settle on 4.5 stars.
Very enjoyable and recommended. Stewart Crowe.
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