WAGNER Löhengrin – Böhm
Karl Böhm was fired up not just by the stage productions of Wieland Wagner in the 1960s (Tristan, The Ring and this Lohengrin at the Vienna State Opera) but by the stage director’s belief in a supple, swift ‘Italian’ sound for Wagner – the very kind that he had learned from Richard Strauss. Their first two collaborations have long been available on disc and much hailed. This May 1965 Lohengrin is new and it is, not to mince words, a real scorcher – Böhm and the cast going all out for what Orfeo’s box-top note nervously terms ‘high drama’. Conductor and Telramund deliver an accelerando climax to the Count’s Weber-like Act 2 aria that the offstage brass cannot quite keep up with, while the climax of Ludwig’s ensuing aria – the mezzo in the full-on dramatic voice that tempted Karajan and indeed Böhm to cast her as Brünnhilde and Isolde – brings the house down, provoking a roar of approval only heard previously on Toscanini’s live Rigoletto Act 3.
It must be said straight away that there are cuts aplenty in the Acts 2 and 3 choruses and ensembles, that the (radio) sound is not great to begin with and that interventionist remastering has not helped. If you are allergic to all that and to generous portions of stage noise – this includes a fabulous Wieland-directed cry of despair from Elsa after Lohengrin’s explanation of whence he came – look elsewhere. If you aren’t, this might well be the most thrilling performance of the opera yet put on disc, although you might not be able to play it as much as the ultra-complete Barenboim or the similarly cut Sawallisch.