WAGNER: Overture to Rienzi; Tristan und Isolde: Prelude and Liebestod; Goetterdaemmerung: Siegrfried’s Rhine Journey; Siegfried’s Funeral Music; Bruennhilde’s Immolation Scene – Roberta Knie, soprano/Zagreb Philharmonic/Lovro von Matacic – VAI VAIA 1267, 75:15 [www.vaimusic.com] ****:
Croatian conductor Lovro von Matacic (1899-1985) enjoyed a distinguished career both in the opera house and in the symphonic medium, leading orchestras in Munich, Monte Carlo, Cologne, Czechoslovakia, La Scala, Bayreuth, Berlin, Tokyo, and Zagreb. Despite some dubious politics–which willfully embraced both fascist and authoritarian regimes–Matacic gained a powerful repute as a fine Bruckner conductor, as well as an authority on the European tradition in grand and light opera. His recording of the Beethoven Eroica Symphony with the Czech Philharmonic still gleans accolades from auditors who rank it among the best of the central European interpretations.
VAI offers an all-Wagner concert recording live from Vatroslav Lisinski Hall, Zagreb, from 11 November 1977 in stunning sound. American soprano Roberta Knie joins Matacic for the two vocal selections, revealing a powerful heldensoprano range with a light and warm top, not so metallic as that Birgit Nilsson’s high notes and less full but accurate and archly sensuous. From the opening A given for Rienzi, we realize that a potent lush grip has been imposed on this music, adding a breadth and voluptuousness we rarely experience in Rienzi, almost always played for its energetic athleticism. The luxuriant sound of the Zagreb bass fiddle section and cello section has to be heard to be believed. Glossy strings and high winds, along with an inspired brass section make for excitingly-driven Wagner. Tempos are broad with a vengeance, as if Matacic were beating Celibidache at his own game.
After the grand line of the Rienzi Overture–whose essentially fleet Italian lines have become epic under Matacic–we hear a refreshed Tristan sequence that easily rivals the Nilsson/Knappertsbusch inscription that has been my perennial standard for decades. The transition from the opulent Prelude to the mystical Love-Death occurs seamlessly; and while Knie has not the breadth of vocal tone of Nilsson, she exacts every ounce of erotic urgency from the text while the orchestra shimmers in libidinous paroxysm. The conductor’s realization of selections from The Twilight of the Gods consciously tries to exceed what has come before, with Matacic’s adding languorous transitions from the operatic sequences to fill out the orchestral tissue. The ecstasies of adventure and heroic death play out with thrilling enthusiasm in the course of the “Zu neuen Thaten, teurer Helder” sequence of the Dawn and Rhine Journey, while the invocations of the Rhine Maidens in tandem with the Valhalla motif thunder through Brunnhilde’s immolation. Siegrfried’s Funeral Music and I are old friends – the music I heard at my first New York Philharmonic concert under Bernstein in 1959. Given the absolutely gripping nature of this Zagreb concert–which clearly enthralled the Yugoslav audience–I can’t imagine any Wagner lover’s hearing more astonishing Wagner this season. Recommended as a prime choice for any Best of the Year entries.
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