Studio recording in stereo
November 11, 1985 - June, 1986
Conductor: Georg Solti
König Heinrich Hans Sotin
Lohengrin Plácido Domingo
Elsa Jessye Norman
Telramund Siegmund Nimsgern
Ortrud Eva Randová
Der Heerrufer Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
Ein Edle Peter Jelosits
Ein Edle Thomas Mohr
Ein Edle Anton Scharinger
Ein Edle Alfred Sramek
Wiener Philharmoniker
Chor der Wiener Staatsoper
Decca, 470 795-2 4 CDs DDD
Back Find any errors?

Review by Alan Peters

The late Sir Georg Solti's reading of the luminous score is, I think, his finest Wagnerian effort, and I don't say this lightly, owning his Ring cycle as well. Many conductors, eminent and otherwise, seem to feel that they must rush through the overtures/preludes of Wagner's scores; they fail to allow the music to breathe, to come alive. Maestro Solti, in this recording, allows the "hidden" beauties of the prelude to glow; he never races through the piece to "be done with it"; he builds upon the orchestral texture much like a master painter would, that is, in layers in with consummate love for what he is about. The result is as it should be: a slowly-building crescendo which culminates in the splendor of horns and strings two-thirds of the way in. The quiet, restful denouement brings the prelude to a close.

Domingo sings the title role better than I have ever heard it sung. He brings dignity and a mystical quality to the role that it deserves. His Act III duet with Elsa is most moving, as is his final "Leb wohl" to the Brabantines. Jessye Norman's Elsa, although quite beautifully sung, is almost too "full-bodied" for the part lacking, for want of better terminology, the "fragile and virginal" in her reading of the piece. All the notes are correct, but she is, well, too "knowing".

Siegmund Nimsgern has been roughly handled by many critics in many Wagnerian roles. But here he is just right as the complex Telramund, grasping, scheming, and finally, disgraced. His voice is indignant and proud and full of lamentation where needed, and not without its full effect. He is the perfect counterpart to Lohengrin. Randová's Ortrud has also been severely taken to task for her interpretation of this demanding role. Her voice finds a wobble here and there, it must be admitted; but by and large, her antipathy for both Lohengrin and Elsa (and her husband) are evident; her voice crackles with sparks and her hatred of everyone (including, one would surmise, herself) gives life to her 180 degrees - from Lohengrin effort.

The Vienna Philharmonic's work under Maestro Solti is well-nigh perfect. This is because the conductor takes Wagner at the composer's word. I have never understood why some conductors try to shorten a long opera; for this, as well as other reasons, I find the late Herbert von Karajan a conductor who attempted to "rewrite" Wagner's scores, often ignoring the Master's stated tempi. It is true, as Ernest Newman wrote in his splendid Life of Richard Wagner, that the composer's tempi were "flexible but always true to the melodic line." Karajan, by contrast, had, in my opinion, almost no understanding of Wagner as a composer. Solti, by loving contrast, demonstrates not only his love of the music, but also the psychological and emotional underpinnings of the score. He handles it lovingly, and the Vienna Philharmonic responds accordingly, with a beautifully-modulated work that is evident of the understanding that the conductor brought to the work. The final page of the score, in which Solti gives the kettledrums and brass their full reign, concludes the magnificent work in magnificent style.

For those of you who have not heard the work, this CD is highly recommended; for those who have other recordings of the opera (as I do) but perhaps have not heard this recording, reward yourselves by giving it a listen. You'll begin to appreciate the Master's later masterpieces even more after hearing how this transitional work of his must have spun itself out in his brain.