Wagner Tannhäuser

Author: 
Alan Blyth

Wagner Tannhäuser

  • Tannhäuser
  • Tannhäuser

When the Solti set appeared on LP, both EG, and Desmond Shawe-Taylor in his ''Quarterly Retrospect'' of April 1972, made out a strong case for the somewhat frowned-on Paris version of Tannhauser, and were not surprisingly united in their admiration for the performance. The years have not dimmed the cogency of Solti's advocacy of the later rescension; indeed, CD only serves to confirm that this remains one of his most successful Wagner interpretations, particularly so where the additions to the Venusberg scene are concerned, because there he responds to the lushness and sensuality of the post-Tristan harmonies. They are also magnificently played by the Vienna Philharmonic in superb form and sung by Christa Ludwig whose Venus is one of her most telling contributions to the gramophone.
The set has much to offer in other respects. Ray Minshull makes clear in his introductory note that technical devices were employed to suggest the choral movement. Both that and the placing of the soloists in relation to the orchestra are heard to even greater advantage in the new medium. The sound is very immediate and full. Comparison with the HMV points up the perennial differences between the two companies in recording method: with Decca the orchestra achieves equal prominence with the singers, with HMV it is more backward, slimmer in sound, more closely following a theatre acoustic. The point is made even more manifest here, because the conductors take very different views of the score. Even allowing for the fact that Haitink prefers the original Dresden version, his reading is much lighter, more Mendelssohnian, more linear than Solti's; which thrusts the work forward to the world of the music-dramas of later years, alive to every turn in the music. If you listen just to the Prelude to Act 2 you will immediately grasp the contrast.
In the following Greeting to the Hall of Song, you will find another difference. Dernesch has a truly Wagnerian voice, but beside Popp's ecstatic utterance, Dernesch seems a trifle stately and uninvolved (the ideal via media could be heard at Bayreuth this summer with Cheryl Studer's fine Elisabeth for Sinopoli). On the other hand, Haitink has the heavier Tannhauser, Konig sounding more ungainly, but more tortured than Kollo, whose sensitivity is spoilt by aspirates and some ungracious moments when he presses on his tone. I prefer Braun's elegant, stylish singing to Weikl's slightly more effortful contribution. Both Langraves are excellent.
Choice will depend on what you want from your Tannhauser. At the moment I lean towards the Decca. The Paris edition, and its magnificent execution here, seem a more interesting experience than Haitink's worthy but trifle pallid reading, but if you want the Dresden original, he makes out a good case for it.'

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