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CD Review

Richard Wagner

Der fliegende Holländer

  • Gwyneth Jones - Senta (soprano)
  • Sieglinde Wagner - Mary (alto)
  • Harald Ek - Daland's helmsman (tenor)
  • Hermin Esser - Erik (tenor)
  • Thomas Stewart - the Dutchman (baritone)
  • Karl Ridderbusch - Daland (bass)
Chor und Orchester der Bayreuther Festspiele (1971)/Karl Böhm
Deutsche Grammophon 4775673 2CDs
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This is not the Dutchman to end all Dutchmen; but it's a good one. It's a reissue of an exciting and well-balanced recording of the production from the 1971 Bayreuth Festival. For that reason it has all the atmosphere and sense of occasion that go with such a location and event. There's certainly professional passion, some dedicated singing and playing and much interpretative depth.

Those, though, are what you would expect with Böhm at the… helm. Particularly fine are Gwyneth Jones (though Anja Silja's Senta on the Klemperer set (Emi Great Recordings Of The Century 67405) outshines Jones here) and Ridderbusch as Daland. Thomas Stewart as the Holländer himself is a little rough round the edges – especially when compared with Klemperer's Theo Adam – but his is still is a compelling portrayal and this is a fitting tribute to the tenor, who died just a year ago. Böhm doesn't have quite the same sense of epic unfolding and grand architecture in his fliegende Holländeras Klemperer does: but perhaps Wagner supplies it for him and he makes up for it by greater dramatic presence.

In fact this is a highly dramatic reading. Tension is exposed and exploited at almost every turn. It's full of color and indeed of surprises, if you don't know the story. These are conveyed in the tutti and the way the orchestra supports the singers so well. This is a performance that will satisfy, tingle in places and remains a good, solid account of one of Wagner's shorter operas with which to get to know it. The ensemble and solo performances are good and move the production forward at a more than acceptable pace. If anything, the more anguished aspects of the main characters' predicaments are less fully drawn out than in other versions.

Just how good – and how well recorded in Bayreuth's splendid acoustic – the chorus and orchestra are in this set should be underlined. This fliegende Holländer is easy on the ear despite being 35 years old. The singers' articulation, especially, is clear and easy to follow, which is a good thing given that DG supplies only minimal liner notes with a scene-by-scene synopsis in English, German and French. That's because his two-CD set can be had extremely cheaply (under $14 at ArkivMusic, for example); it's intended, perhaps, as an introductory or "stock" performance, and as such works well. For more compelling and perhaps fiery, perceptive listening you might opt for the Klemperer or the Keilberth on Testament Historical (SBT21384) as historical performances – or the Sinopoli Deutsche Grammophon (437778) for a modern (DDD) one.

But make no mistake, if you spend less for these two CDs than you would on a full price single one, you'll not be disappointed.

Copyright © 2007, Mark Sealey