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David Denton
David's Review Corner, October 2012

The third and last disc of Wagner orchestral excepts that forms part of the retrospective Seattle Symphony Collection being reissued on Naxos. The first track links together the Overture to Tannhauser with the sensual beauty of Venus and his nymphs dancing for Tannhauser’s delight, Gerard Schwarz, having this massive change of mood so well handled. A far more delicate approach to the Meistersinger excerpts from Act 3 than we normally encounter, and a rather gentle Dance of the Apprentices. All of those extracts come from recordings made back in 1986, but we move forward six years for Tristan und Isolde and the difference in sound is marked. There is a warmth and smoothness that is ideal, Schwarz’s first act prelude foreseeing the sadness that will eventually unfold, while the opening to the third act finds the deep strings setting the sombre scene. It takes us to the Isolde’s final Liebestod with the much experienced American soprano, Alessandra Marc, as soloist. She has a nicely projected voice and admirable intonation, and in isolation it is a highly attractive account. And yet there is something about a live performance of the opera, where this final moment comes when the singer has taken a long journey through the work’s emotions, the recordings of Flagstad and Nilsson reigning supreme. For those who like Wagner in ‘bite-size’ quantities, it is a disc worth its modest price. © 2012 David’s Review Corner

Phil Muse
Audio Video Club of Atlanta, September 2012

WAGNER, R.: Orchestral Excerpts, Vol. 1 (Seattle Symphony, Schwarz) 8.572767
WAGNER, R.: Orchestral Excerpts, Vol. 2 (Seattle Symphony, Schwarz) 8.572768
WAGNER, R.: Orchestral Excerpts, Vol. 3 (Seattle Symphony, Schwarz) 8.572769

Volume 1 consists of the Flying Dutchman Overture and a selection from the Ring tetralogy. The overture is as storm-tossed and lyrical as we could wish, illuminated at just the right moments by those famous horn calls that summon the protagonist to resume his wandering for all eternity. Things pick up, in human interest as well as drama, in the two highlights from Die Walküre, Wotan’s moving Farewell to his daughter Brünnhilde and Magic Fire Music…Forest Murmurs from Act II of Siegfried is as persuasive as we are likely to hear this well-loved Wagner favorite, thanks to the transparency of sound from the SSO string section and some truly lovely commentary in the way of bird-calls by the various woodwinds. The luminosity continues with the four deeply atmospheric excerpts from Götterdämerung (Twilight of the Gods): Dawn, Siegfried’s Rhine Journey, Siegfried’s Death, and Funeral March, as the music moves from near-impressionism to frothy romance, and at last stark tragedy.

In Volume 2 we have the unjustly neglected Faust Overture, the work of an ardent young romantic, plus excerpts from Wagner’s ultimate continuous stream-of-music dramas Lohengrin and Parsifal. In the former, besides the enchantment of the Preludes to Acts I and III, we have “Elsa’s Dream,” with its vocal superbly rendered in all its longing and spiritual beauty by the great German-American soprano Alessandra Marc. The famous Good Friday Spell from Parsifal achieves moments of transcendence and religious exaltation without descending to sticky piety under Schwarz’ tasteful direction. And the dark, layered sound of the Seattle Symphony strings serves the various moods of mystery and desolation in Preludes from acts I and III very well.

Finally, in Volume 3 the dark, rich color and tonal palette of the Seattle Symphony finds its best showcase in the music from Tristan und Isolde. The purely orchestral excerpts, consisting of the Preludes to acts I and III, show the results of Wagner’s advanced chromaticism, often in the form of a visible darkness that enhances the doom-laden mood of the music. Alessandra Marc is on hand again in these 1992 performances recorded at the Seattle Opera house by Adam Stern and John Eargle, first in a knowing account of Brangäne’s Warning, then in a superlative rendering of Isolde’s famous Liebestod (Love in death) in which her voice dips and soars seamlessly through the various emotions experienced by the heroine. Earlier in the program, we have Schwarz guiding the orchestra through well-loved highlights from Tannhäuser (the glowing Overture and the exciting Venusberg Music) and Die Meistersinger (Act III Introduction, a light-hearted and more-than-welcome Dance of the Apprentices, and finally the stirring March of the Meistersingers). As they are throughout the 3-CD set, the sonics are first-rate. © 2012 Audio Video Club of Atlanta

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