WAGNER: Orchestral Works Volumes 1 and 2 – Dutch Radio Philharmonic Orchestra/ Edo de Waart, conductor – Exton 2 Multichannel SACDs, 78 min. OVCL-00153 (Vol. 1); 68 min. OVCL-00198 (Vol. 2) [Distr. by Allegro] *****:
Wagner’s music seems to have a very polarizing effect on listeners: either you love it, or you hate it, and even if you happen to fall into the love camp, it can sometimes be quite a daunting task to endure an average of three-plus hours just to get an appreciation of the often exquisite orchestral bits. And, of course, there are those who consider the separation of any orchestral music from the specific opera as nothing more than “bloody chunks,” solely for the enjoyment of the unwashed masses, and of no redeeming value, period! I tend to fall on the less extreme side, and I do enjoy a really rousing Wagner overture occasionally, and I’m glad that many orchestras continue to program them with regularity, as my often hectic schedule doesn’t often offer the kind of time needed to get the full appreciation of Wagner in his preferred format.
Wagner’s music needs to be played at realistic levels, and there currently aren’t too many SACD discs of Wagner preludes and overtures, so these two new independently available SACD volumes from Exton are a welcome addition, indeed! The program selection contains most of the big numbers; Volume 1 includes preludes from The Meistersinger, Lohengrin, Parsifal and Tristan and Isolde, as well as overtures from The Flying Dutchman and Tannhauser. Volume 2 continues with overtures from Faust, Rienzi, and Wagner’s first opera, Die Feen (The Fairy) – this particular selection was new to me, and will definitely be of interest to Wagner completists. Vol. 2 also includes additional music from Meistersinger, the Siegfried Idyll, and an incredibly rousing “Ride of the Valkyries,” which made me more than just a little sad that there was no other music from the “Ring” on either disc. Oh, well, maybe there’s a Volume 3 in the works! And the performances are first rate; the more rapidly-paced overtures are played with plenty of gusto, and the slower numbers are given beautifully expressive readings. Edo de Waart and the Dutch Radio Philharmonic do a remarkable job here, offering truly idiomatic performances – you’d be hard pressed to find a better Wagner collection.
We’ve been asked by some readers to rate the surround content of multichannel SACDs, and for these two discs I give them each the full five stars. Now I feel that I must qualify my rating so that no one gets the wrong impression – I’m not really one who enjoys what I consider “gimmickry,” especially in classical music recordings, and this disc offers a true hall perspective, which means there isn’t a whole lot going on in the surround channels. What you do get is a true sense of envelopment of the naturally reverberated orchestral sound and an accurate representation of the recording hall’s acoustic. What you don’t get is an artificial impression of being seated among the players – and this is how it should be with orchestral recordings. I’m a little more flexible with chamber music recordings, but with an orchestra I want to be seated a few rows out from the orchestra, with the players spread believably in front of me, and only ambience to the rear – and this is what you get here, in spades. These Wagner SACDs are among the most impressively believable orchestral recordings I’ve heard recently, and if your surround system is up to the task, you’ll be richly rewarded by these excellent discs.
I’d also like to point out that these discs only offer 5.0 surround – there is no LFE or subwoofer channel present [there usually isn’t on classical SACDs…Ed.], however my subwoofer is hooked up via a direct feed from my amplifier, and I felt there was no noticeable absence of low frequency information. I did not listen without the sub connected, so I can’t really comment, but I’m certain that anyone with full range loudspeakers will get the full effect. My speakers are Magneplanars (very little low bass), and my sub is set to only slightly augment the lowest octave, but I was truly blown away by the power of the orchestral sound offered here. Very highly recommended!
— Tom Gibbs