WAGNER: The Flying Dutchman
MAHLER: Symphony No. 9
DONIZETTI: Lucia di Lammermoor
Pentatone is one of the most reliable record companies and has produced many outstanding modern digital multi-channel recordings. They also have released many of the remarkable Philips four-channel recordings from the '70s giving collectors the opportunity for the first time to hear these excellent sound sound performances. They have now started an ambitious project, recording Wagner's ten major operas beginning with this Flying Dutchman. All will be recorded during live concert performances conducted by Marek Janowski with the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra. A note by Prof. Dr. Norbert Larmmert, President of the German Bundestag, states it is felt that this approach to recording Wagner's music will eliminate distractions that could exist because of directors' intervention and visual distractions—a great idea considering some of the Wagnerian travesties that recently have been accepted in major opera houses. Although this is a "live" recording (made November 13, 2010) there are no audience sounds whatever, and no applause—surely there were at least a few studio sessions—or was this a performance without an audience? Janowski's brisk tempi work well, and the cast is admirable with one exception: Ricarda Merbeth as Senta. Although this German soprano has been singing Strauss and Wagner in major opera houses for the last decade, she surely wasn't at her best when this recording was made. Let us hope that in future releases in the series all singers will be up to their challenging roles. And if you'd like to hear the role of Senta sung to perfection, listen to the incredible 1955 live Bayreuth Festival performance conducted by Joseph Keilberth in which Astrid Varnay is in spectacular form (REVIEW). Pentatone offers a deluxe package that includes the complete libretto in German and English.
With this recording of Symphony No. 9 recorded in March 2011 Valery Gergiev concludes his series of live performances of Mahler's completed symphonies. Perhaps eventually he will include a version of Symphony No. 12, Das Lied von der Erde, and the song cycles. Gergiev's is a distinguished series with the LSO in top form. My major problem with all of these is the venue - the Barbican Hall is unresonant and this does not favor string sound. It seems rather ironic that Gergiev's recording of Symphony No. 8, recorded July 2008 in St. Paul's Cathedral, has too much reverb, although the engineers handled it quite well (REVIEW). For me, the ultimate Mahler Ninth is the incredible performance by the Lucerne Festival Orchestra directed by Claudio Abbado, not to be missed, on DVD (REVIEW).
This splendid performance of Lucia di Lammermoor is from a rather unlikely source, and proves the Mariinsky Theatre can presents superb performances of non-Russian repertory. Natalie Dessay is outstanding as the doomed Lucy, both vocally and dramatically. Use of the glass harmonica in the Mad Scene produces a unique effect. There is not a weak link in the cast. This is not a live performance; there are no audience sounds whatever. Audio is resonant and well-balanced although a few of Dessay's stratospheric notes have a touch of distortion. This is a deluxe album with complete libretto.
R.E.B. (October 2011)