WAGNER: Lohengrin (complete opera) – Günther Groissböck (Heinrich der Vogler)/ Klaus Florian Vogt (Lohengrin)/ Annette Dasch (Elsa)/ Gerd Grochowski (Friedrich von Telramund)/ Susanne Resmark (Ortrud)/ Markus Brück (Der Heerrufer des Königs)/ Berlin Radio Choir and Sym. Orch./ Marek Janowski – PentaTone multichannel SACD PTC 5186 403 (three discs), 59.24; 79.34; 61.36 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:
This new Lohengrin, recorded in a single take at a live concert in 2011, continues the fine recording project from PentaTone that seeks to set down ten Wagner operas in performances glowing in the amber hue of brilliant surround sound. Lohengrin is not an opera that suffers from a dearth of great recordings; though there are many, very few compete for the title “best ever”, and in fact I doubt this appellation applies to the opera’s current catalog at all. One could make a very good argument that Rudolph Kempe’s EMI recording with Christa Ludwig and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau has occupied the “most desired” throne for a while, but even here it is really the strength of Kempe’s conducting that casts such a favorable light on the performance, while there is still room in all facets of the production for competitive issues to challenge.
This recording does just that; while it must be freely admitted that the recent Profil recording, also on SACD, with Semyon Bychkov, has taken a first place in the hi-def Lohengrin sweepstakes, this current recording must also be considered a favorite, placing Wagner fans, and especially audiophile Wagner fans, in a most enviable position. The main reason to acquire this disc resides not in the conducting, which is very solid and firm under the hand of Janowski, but the delightfully fleet and fluent singing of the Lohengrin, Klaus Florian Vogt. His voice is off-putting at first, so light and almost adolescent it sounds, but then as time goes on you realize how perfect it really is for this role, easily sailing along Wagner’s orchestrally highlighted melodies, and giving us a plethora of vocal color that is just not known in most recordings. Annette Dasch’s Elsa likewise is capable of the most sensitive vocal shading, and has an ability to project Elsa’s continuously transformational emotional states within the confines of a magnificent soprano instrument. The rest of the cast is equally fine; only the Ortrud of Susanne Resmark presents some problems, and only then because of some straining that seems to occur when she is called upon to unduly project with her instrument.
Orchestrally things could hardly be better. While the strings, I must admit, sometimes seem to lack the requisite heft that Wagner requires, overall they have the measure of the music, and the brass project with thrilling abandon in all the right places. The placement of the offstage instruments really comes to life in this marvelously-engineered recording.
The packaging is so-so; though we get texts and translations, the booklet is so hefty that it easily tears from the spine—PentaTone need to find a way to correct this. The notes by Steffen Georgi are interesting though he likes to make statements impossible to back up, and indeed makes little attempt to do so. But overall this is a tremendous recording that competes well with any reading currently available.
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