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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2016 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Recordings Review: The Swan Boat Express

Marek Janowski's  Lohengrin from Berlin.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Bad romance: Klaus Florian Vogt and Annette Dasch in Lohengrin.
Photo from the Bayreuth Festival © 2011
This is the fourth installment in Marek Janowski's ongoing Wagner project: the ambitious plan to make live concert recordings of all ten "canon" Wagner operas with the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra. It is also the first commercial CD recording of Lohengrin to star heldentenor Klaus Florian Vogt in the title role.

As with his recent Parsifal, Marek Janowski takes an unsentimental approach to this score. His approach works better here, underlining the fact that Lohengrin was Wagner's last work before the composer embarked on the Ring. Tempos are generally fast, with the Prelude to Act I clocking in at a quick 8'31". That momentum is maintained throughout this long opera, and the whole performance comes in 16 minutes shorter than Rudolf Kempe's legendary set for EMI.


Mr. Vogt is the biggest name in the cast. This tenor has made his reputation in Wagner, Strauss and Korngold with a clear delivery and a voice that has the right metallic ring to it without ever sounding shrill.  He handles Lohengrin's high-reaching music well from the entry, singing "Mein lieber schwann" with tenderness in the first and third acts, and absolutely nailing the difficult "Heil dir, Elsa" at the end of Act II.

Annette Dasch has a pleasing soprano voice, following Elsa's arc from girlish expectation to heart-broken maturity over the course of three acts. She is compelling in her duets with Mr. Vogt, who she sang with in the 2011 Bayreuth production of this opera. Her prayer scene (superbly backed by the chorus) and the long, shifting duet with Ms. Besmarck are particularly fine moments. Ms. Besmarck strains in Ortrud's big, dramatic invocation to Wotan and Freia, but otherwise delivers a credible portrait of evil.
Even after the long wedding duet, Mr. Vogt still has enough power left over for the climactic phrases of "In fernem Land." This aria alone (presented in its abbreviated "standard cut" version without the second verse) makes this recording worth hearing, although the singer seems to run out of air in the last syllables of "und Lo-hen-grin gen-nant." His final address to the swan in Act III is ethereal and sweet.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

The brisk approach extends to the introduction of the work's three low voices: the Herald (Markus Brück), King Henry (Gunther Groissböck) King Henry's long expositions never drag. Friedrich von Telramund (Gerd Groschowski). The first two singers manage to make their parts distinct from each other in the first Act.

Mr. Groschowski is compelling as Friedrich von Telramund, the knight who i duped by his wife Ortrud (Susanne Besmarck) into accusing Elsa of murder. As prosecutor in Elsa's trial, Telramund has a lot of exposition to cover, and Mr. Groschowski does his best to make it interesting.  The Telramunds' long "exile" duet at the start of Act II becomes one of the most exciting passages in the score, with Ms. Besmarck chewing the non-existent scenery.

Annette Dasch has a pleasing soprano voice, following Elsa's arc from girlish expectation to heart-broken maturity over the course of three acts. She is compelling in her duets with Mr. Vogt, who she sang with in the 2011 Bayreuth production of this opera. Her prayer scene (superbly backed by the chorus) and the long, shifting duet with Ms. Besmarck are particularly fine moments. Ms. Besmarck strains in Ortrud's big, dramatic invocation to Wotan and Freia, but otherwise delivers a credible portrait of evil.

Mr. Janowski's accelerated approach makes short work of the opera's "dead spots." The trial scene in Act I, the fight scenes, and the processionals all breeze by, unencumbered by extras or set changes. That's not to say it's dull--the orchestral textures have great clarity and beauty. The strings' shimmering tone is well caught by the engineers, and if the offstage trumpets sound a little ragged, that just lends to the feeling of listening to a live performance.
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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.