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CD Review

Richard Wagner

  • Der fliegende Holländer (Overture)
  • Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (Suite)
  • Die Walküre (Wotan's Farewell & Magic Fire Music)
  • Rienzi (Overture)
  • Götterdämmerung (Dawn & Siegfried's Rhine Journey)
  • Siegfried Idyll
  • Tristan und Isolde (Prelude to Act III)
Detroit Symphony Orchestra/Paul Paray
Mercury Living Presence 434383-2
Find it at AmazonFind it at Amazon UKFind it at Amazon GermanyFind it at Amazon CanadaFind it at Amazon FranceFind it at Amazon Japan

Although this disc has a planned release within the third (and perhaps final) Mercury Living Presence box from Universal, the present album is one of the rarer titles within this popular series. Paul Paray made a name for himself in Detroit leading French orchestral music, but he also set down some German classics as well. Among these were a fine Haydn and Mendelssohn pairing, as well as a complete Schumann symphony cycle. This disc of Wagner has been mostly out of print since being released in 1996, in part because there are so many exceptional Wagner excerpt programs on the market. But the French have always done Wagner well, and despite some shoddy ensemble here and there, this jam-packed disc is rewarding.

In 1958 and 1960 when these selections were taped, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra was a reliable if not generally gorgeous ensemble. The magic mostly comes from Paray's baton; there is a lightness and effortlessness surrounding this music that is entirely refreshing. While the orchestra's winds – superlative to this day – make the same lovely sounds that they did in Paray's historic French orchestral survey, the strings impress less. That's not to say that one can't appreciate the crisp phrasing and dramatic sweep they contribute, but rather that there are more beautiful ensembles out there in this music. Yet, there is always a sense of musical "rightness" about these performances, the music never drags and never feels too heavy. There is a real feeling of joy in this recording that distinguishes all of Paray's work, as well as the utter lack of mannerism.

These recordings still sound great over five decades later, allowing us to hear Paray's keen ear for balances and obvious enjoyment of Wagner's oft-ponderous writing. True, the clarity gives us a blemished orchestra, one without a true home at the time. But few Wagner discs give me as much appreciation of these pieces as this one, and it's a great supplemental disc for collectors, now available on-demand from ArkivMusic.

Copyright © 2015, Brian Wigman