WAGNER Der Fliegende Holländer (Sawallisch)
Clearly one of Wieland Wagner’s great New Bayreuth nights. Orfeo is to be congratulated on putting it out despite the longtime catalogue success of a Philips release with some different principals from two years later. Inspired by Wieland’s punky Brechtian new production of the opera, Sawallisch – rapidly becoming his chief’s favourite ‘Italian’ (ie lighter and quicker) Wagner maestro – returned to as much detail of Wagner’s original Dresden score as was then known about. And played it in three distinct acts even more to give the lie to Cosima’s fabrication of the interval-less music drama she claimed Wagner had always wanted. So out went the ‘redemption’ Tristan ending to the Overture and Act 3, in come all the tremolandos that frightened Berlioz and the blast of brass as Senta reacts to the Dutchman’s arrival. But in best Wieland blue-pencil style there are no repeats in the (he thought) archaic Holländer/Daland Act 1 duet, the trios that close Act 2 and send the Holländer off to sea in Act 3, fearing all is lost, or the music that both closes Acts 1 and 2 and opens Acts 2 and 3.
Sawallisch puts this across with even more orchestral and choral punch than in 1961. It must have been a shock tantamount to original-instrument performance to audiences accustomed to the grander updatings of the heretical one-act version (as recorded by, say, Karajan or Thielemann). The cast is on fire as well. Is this now George London’s greatest recording? With its mix of power, agony and scariness (‘Den fliegenden Holländer nennt man mich’) I think so. Leonie Rysanek, to be replaced in following years by Wieland’s muse Anja Silja, is also in superbly risky form, similarly quite scary in the Ballad and clearly bored with the bourgeois world she wants to escape. And a stunning final top note. The rest are a team, with Greindl the very archetype of the comic obsessed local business man. The recording does full justice in clarity and balance to the (then) new world of original Wagner. It’s indispensable to hear Anja Silja two years later leading the 1961 recording – and her work in the Klemperer London recording and concert – but I think this now takes top recommendation as a performance for all except mono phobes.