Mike Ashman
WAGNER Overtures and Arias
Germany, and Bayreuth in particular, were not exactly forthcoming with official releases for Wagner 200 year. Thielemann, the festival’s de facto music director, led three birthday concerts of which, it has to be said, this is by far the least interesting in terms of making up a single concert. Hopefully the big choral event in Dresden’s Frauenkirche – it included both Das Liebesmahl der Apostel and the music for the reburial of Weber’s ashes – is still to come. Avid and online collectors will, of course, have had all of this material from Dresden and Bayreuth since last May.

If some hypothetical draconian law were to ban the DVD ing of one kind of music-making, orchestral concerts by living conductors should be high on the list. By all means let the filming be streamed and accessible but…for regular viewing? The only interesting things that happen here from a visual point of view are Kaufmann’s three numbers – aside from his musical achievement he has both natural presence and the ability to put over the content of the narrations in gripping but unhistrionic fashion – and the different degrees to which Thielemann ‘knows’ the music he conducts (from head in score for the Henze to hardly conducting the Holländer and Tannhäuser excerpts at all).

Pardon a critic’s moans but this is a DVD: the medium is the message, and I found watching this one boring. That said, the music-making is absolutely world-class. Orchestra, conductor and singer do not disappoint, especially the Dresden strings which, on this day, were on some kind of seraphic high of their own. For the record, the Henze is a lovely piece, gorgeously and lushly scored somewhat in the manner of a big-orchestra version of the opera Elegy for Young Lovers. It had to be substituted for the commissioned Isoldes Tod that the composer’s death prevented his completing. Thielemann is quite restrained in the climaxes of the Holländer and Rienzi overtures but most involved in an expertly paced Tannhäuser’s Act 3 narrative. For some reason (chorus balance?) the concert’s encore, the Entry of the Guests from Tannhäuser, is omitted. The sound is good enough to enjoy the heavenly string tone but a CD would have been more effective.

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