WAGNER: Albumblatt für Ernst Benedikt Kietz, “Lied ohne Worte.” Albumblatt für Frau Betty Schott. Ankunft bei den schwarzen Schwänen. Eine Sonate für das Album von Frau M.W. Elegie in A-flat. Fantasia if f-sharp min., Op. 3 (WWV 22). In das Album der Fürstin M. Notenbrief für Mathilde Wesendonck. Piano Sonata in B-flat, Op. 1 (WWV 21). Piano Sonata in A, “Große Sonate” Op. 4 (WWV 26). Piano Sonata in A – Alternate finale. Polonaise in D, WWV 23a. Polonaise for piano four hands in D, WWV 23b. Schluß zum Vorspiel from Tristan und Isolde. Züricher Vielliebchen-Walzer / Pier Paolo Vincenzi, pianist / Brilliant Classics 94450 or available for free streaming on YouTube
WAGNER: Les deux Grenadiers. Lied des Mephistopheles: No. 4, Es war einmal ein König; No. 5, Was machst du mir. Mignonne. Der Tannenbaum. Tout n’est qu’images fugitives / Thomas Hampson, baritone; Geoffrey Parsons, pianist / part of EMI 55047 or available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking titles above
Wagner was such a giant of the opera house that many people tend to forget—or not know—that he wrote a great deal of other music, although sometimes his ideas were truncated or he put the work aside unfinished because he had an epic opera to work on. Nonetheless, these piano pieces and songs, mostly excellent, are a window into his musical mind and are not to be ignored.
WAGNER: Ein Faust Overture / BBC Symphony Orchestra / Der Fliegende Holländer Overture. Lohengrin: Act I Prelude; Act III Prelude. Die Meistersinger: Act I Prelude; Act III Prelude. Parsifal: Act I Prelude; “Good Friday Spell” Music. Der Ring des Nibelungen: Die Walküre: Act I, Scene 3.*+ Act III: Ride of the Valkyries. Siegfried: Forest Murmurs. Götterdämmerung: Prologue: Dawn, Zu neuen Taten, Siegfried’s Rhine Journey;*+ Siegfried’s Death & Funeral March; Immolation Scene.*Tannhäuser: Overture & Venusburg Music. Tristan und Isolde: Prelude & Liebestod / *Helen Traubel, soprano; +Lauritz Melchior, tenor; NBC Symphony Orchestra; Arturo Toscanini, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking individual titles above
Although I also like much of Wilhelm Furtwängler’s Wagner as well, I really LOVE these specific Toscanini performances. He really achieved repose, superb legato, unparalleled textural clarity and forward momentum within his basically slow tempi in these performances, and the February 1941 concert performances also included the outstanding singing of soprano Helen Traubel and tenor Lauritz Melchior. An extra dimension can also be heard in the Act I Lohengrin and Meistersinger Preludes and the Tannhäuser Overture & Venusburg Music, as these are his April 1954 performances recorded in true stereo.
WAGNER: Die Feen [The Fairies]: Overture / London Symphony Orchestra; Albert Coates, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
Although this 1927 recording has dated sound, no one in my estimation conducts this early operatic overture by Wagner as well as Coates.
WAGNER: Der Fliegende Holländer / George London, bass-baritone (Holländer); Josef Greindl, bass (Daland); Leonie Rysanek, soprano (Senta); Fritz Uhl, tenor (Erik); Res Fischer, contralto (Mary); Georg Paskuda, tenor (Steersman); Bayreuth Festival Chorus & Orchestra; Wolfgang Sawallisch, conductor / Orfeo d’Or C936 1821 or available for free streaming on YouTube
WAGNER: Der Fliegende Holländer / Simon Estes, bass-baritone (Holländer); Matti Salminen, bass (Daland); Lisbeth Balslev, soprano (Senta); Robert Schunk, tenor (Erik); Anny Schlemm, contralto (Mary); Graham Clark, tenor (Steersman); Bayreuth Festival Chorus & Orchestra; Woldemar Nelsson, conductor / Philips 942702 or available for free streaming on YouTube
Two recordings of the opera Wagner considered the first of his great ones, both live from Bayreuth: the first in mono from 1959, the second in digital stereo from 1985. George London’s voice is a shade steadier than Simon Estes’, but Estes is a subtler and more interesting character. Lisbeth Balslev is the most exciting Senta on records, but young Rysanek provides a better balance between drama and dreaminess. Graham Clark and Matti Salminen are better in their roles than Georg Paskuda and Josef Griendl, but Fritz Uhl sings with less effort than Robert Schunk as Erik. I recommend both, however, because they are different interpretations that complement each other.
WAGNER: Huldingungsmarsch. Kaisermarsch. Rienzi: Overture. Symphony No. 1. Symphony No. 2 (unfinished) / Royal Scottish National Orchestra; Neeme Järvi, conductor / Chandos 5097, available for free streaming in small bits on YouTube
Another interesting album, this time of Wagner’s orchestral works (plus the Rienzi Overture), conducted superbly by Neeme Järvi.
WAGNER: Das Liebesmahl der Apostel, WWV 69 (1843) / Ambrosian Male Chorus; Symphonica of London; Wyn Morris, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
One of Wagner’s most unusual yet (in my view) original and moving works is this long (33 minute) orchestral synthesis with chorus (in the last third of the piece) paying tribute to the Feast of the Pentecost by the original apostles of Jesus. There are several seminal ideas in this music that were later brought to fruition in his music dramas. The vastly underrated Wyn Morris conducts it beautifully.
WAGNER: Lohengrin / Franz Crass, bass (Heinrich der Vogler); Sándor Kónya, tenor (Lohengrin); Elisabeth Grümmer, soprano (Elsa von Brabant); Ernest Blanc, baritone (Telramund); Rita Gorr, contralto (Ortrud); Eberhard Wächter, baritone (Herald); Harald Neukirch, tenor (Brabantian); Bayreuth Festival Chorus & Orchestra; Lovro von Matačić, conductor / Orfeo d’Or C691 063 or available for free streaming on YouTube
Yes, this 1959 live performance from Bayreuth is in mono, but it has the “Bayreuth sound” and the singing and conducting are so uniformly great that you hold your breath waiting for someone to weaken—yet they never do. One of the greatest opera recordings of all time.
WAGNER: Lohengrin / Kurt Moll, bass (Heinrich der Vogler); Siegfried Jerusalem, tenor (Lohengrin); Cheryl Studer, soprano (Elsa von Brabant); Hartmut Welker, baritone (Telramund); Waltraud Meier, contralto (Ortrud); Andreas Schmidt, baritone (Herald); Hartmut Welker, baritone (Brabantian); Vienna State Opera Chorus; Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra; Claudio Abbado, conductor / Deutsche Grammophon 4458692 or available for free streaming on YouTube
Although a studio recording, this is the finest stereo or digital Lohengrin I’ve ever heard, though Waltraud Meier is not quite as large-voiced or menacing as Rita Gorr in the Bayreuth performance listed above.
WAGNER: Die Meistersinger von Nurnburg: Act I; Act II; Act III / Henk Noort, tenor (Walther); Kerstin Thorborg, contralto (Magdalene); Maria Reining, soprano (Eva); Richard Sallaba, tenor (David); Herbert Alsen, bass (Veit Pogner); Hermann Wiedeman, baritone (Beckmesser); Hans Hermann Nissen, bass-bar. (Sachs); Georg Maikl, tenor (Vogelgesang); Rolf Telasco, bass (Nachtigall); Carl Bissuti, bass (Schwarz/Nachtwächter); Anton Dermota, tenor (Balthasar Zorn); Vienna State Opera Chorus; Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra; Arturo Toscanini, conductor / available for free streaming at the Internet Archive by clicking on act titles above
Although suffering from dry, boxy sound—it was recorded on long reels of paper tape by a device called the Selenophone—this performance has a certain magical beauty about it, and a good dramatic feel, that escapes many a recording of this great comic opera.
WAGNER: Die Meistersinger von Nurnburg / Ben Heppner, tenor (Walther); Cornelia Kallisch, contralto (Magdalene); Cheryl Studer, soprano (Eva); Deon van der Walt, tenor (David); Kurt Moll, bass (Veit Pogner); Siegfried Lorenz, baritone (Beckmesser); Bernd Weikl, bass-bar. (Sachs); Michael Schade, tenor (Vogelgesang); Hans Wilbrink, bass (Nachtigall); René Pape, bass (Nachtwächter); Ulrich Reiss, tenor (Balthasar Zorn); Hans-Joachim Ketelsen, bar. (Kothner); Bavarian Opera Orchestra & Chorus; Wolfgang Sawallisch, conductor / EMI Classics 09195 or available for streaming in small bits on YouTube
Although Alan Blyth, in the Gramophone, carped about what he felt was a sterile and cold interpretation, I hear this recording quite differently. For me, it is stunningly gorgeous and both sung and conducted with a good sense of what the opera is about, certainly far better than the vastly overrated Kubelik recording (everyone tries to sound involved, but somehow miss the mark), the late Solti performance and, in the role of Walther, superior to the 1956 Rudolf Kempe recording despite Kempe’s outstanding leadership.
WAGNER: Parsifal / George London, bass-baritone (Amfortas); Arnold van Mill, bass (Titurel); Josef Greindl, bass (Gurnemanz); Ramón Vinay, tenor (Parsifal); Toni Blankenheim, baritone (Klingsor); Martha Mödl, soprano (Kundry); Georgine von Milinkovic, alto (Voice); Paula Lechner, soprano (Squire 1/Flower Maiden 3); Elisabeth Schärtel, mezzo (Squire 2/Flower Maiden 6); Hans Krotthammer, tenor (Squire 3); Gerhard Stolze, tenor (Squire 4); Ilse Hollweg, soprano (Flower Maiden 1); Friedl Pöltinger, soprano (Flower Maiden 2); Dorothea Siebert, mezzo (Flower Maiden 4); Lotte Rysanek, soprano (Flower Maiden 5); Walter Giesler, tenor (Knight 1); Otto Wiener, bass (Knight 2); Bayreuth Festival Chorus & Orch.; Hans Knappertsbusch, cond / Opera Depot OD 10811-4 (mono; live: Bayreuth, 1957)
This famous, or infamous, live recording of Wagner’s last opera has attained something of a legendary status over the decades despite its boxy mono sound, pops, crackles and bad tape noise due to the excellent all-star cast. Primary among these is George London, whose Amfortas is one of the most interesting ever committed to tape or disc, but there is also the super-intense Martha Mödl as the most complex and three-dimensional Kundry. Mödl, who got a late start to her career due to the Nazis (she refused to perform for them after her debut in the early ‘40s), pretty much blew out her voice by the late 1950s. Here she still has her high range—sort of, though not as solid as it was a couple of years earlier—but an incipient wobble has already started to creep in, but no matter when you have such an interesting characterization. Josef Greindl’s Gurnemanz has a full-blown wobble half the time, but his, too, is one of the most complex and fascinating interpretations, and the great Chilean tenor Ramón Vinay, in excellent voice despite years of pushing his baritonal voice into the tenor range, is the most intense and interesting of Parsifals.
WAGNER: Parsifal / Matthias Hölle, bass (Gurnemanz); Waltraud Meier, mezzo (Kundry/Alto voice); José van Dam, baritone (Amfortas); Siegfried Jerusalem, tenor (Parsifal); John Tomlinson, bass (Titurel); Marianne Rørholm, soprano (Squire 1); Annette Kuttenbaum, contralto (Squire 2); Helmut Pampuch, tenor (Squire 3); Peter Maus, tenor (Squire 4); Günter von Kannen, baritone (Klingsor); Edith Wiens, soprano (Flower Maiden 1); Constance Hauman, soprano (Flower Maiden 2); Daniela Bechly, soprano (Flower Maiden 3); Hilde Liedland, mezzo-soprano (Flower Maiden 4); Pamela Coburn, soprano (Flower Maiden 5); Sally Burgess, mezzo-soprano (Flower Maiden 6); Kurt Schreibmayer, tenor (Knight 1); Cornelius Hauptmann, bass (Knight 2); Chorus of Deutschen Staatsoper, Berlin; Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra; Daniel Barenboim, conductor / Teldec 4675177
For me, this is the very best stereo/digital recording of this opera, despite Barenboim’s slowing down to an excruciatingly slow tempo for the death of Amfortas. The cast is superb, and Barenboim brings out details in the score that others miss, even Knappertsbusch of sainted memory.
WAGNER: Rienzi / John Mitchinson, tenor (Cola Rienzi); Lois McDonald, soprano (Irene); Michael Langdon, bass (Steffano Colonna); Lorna Haywood, soprano (Adriano Colonna); Raimund Herincx, bass-baritone (Paolo Orsini); David Ward, bass (Raimondo); Elizabeth Gale, soprano (Messenger); Adrian de Peyer, tenor (Baroncelli); Paul Hudson, baritone (Cecco del Vecchio); Brian Cookson, tenor (Herald); BBC Northern Singers & Orchestra; Edward Downes, conductor / Opera Depot OD 10915 or available for free streaming on YouTube
Wagner rejected this early “Grand Opera” in his later years, and it is often said that a complete performance (as is given here) is a monster too heavy to be absorbed, but except for the VERY overlong ballet scenes (one lasting 33 minutes!), I tend to disagree. It is both a beautiful and a dramatic work, Wagnerian in style for the most part. The singing on this live performance is equally outstanding, with the little-remembered but superb British tenor John Mitchinson tackling the title role, Raimund Herincx singing Paolo Orsini, Michael Langdon as Steffano Colonna and the even less well-known soprano Lois McDonald as Irene. Edward Downes’ conducting, as usual, combines fine drama with elegance of line, and thankfully it is in stereo.
WAGNER: Der Ring des Nibelungen
The Furtwängler Ring
WAGNER: Das Rheingold / Sena Jurinac, soprano (Woglinde); Magda Gabory, soprano (Wellgunde); Hilde Rössl-Majdan, mezzo (Flosshilde); Gustav Neidlinger, bar (Alberich); Ferdinand Frantz, bs-bar (Wotan); Ira Malaniuk, mezzo (Fricka); Elisabeth Grümmer, soprano (Freia); Gottlob Frick, bass (Fasolt); Josef Greindl, bass (Fafner); Alfred Poell, baritone (Donner); Lorenz Fehrenberger, tenor (Froh); Wolfgang Windgassen, tenor (Loge); Julius Patzak, tenor (Mime); Ruth Siewert, alto (Erda); RIAS Rome Symphony Orchestra; Wilhelm Furtwängler, conductor / Available for free streaming on YouTube
WAGNER: Die Walküre / Ludwig Suthaus, tenor (Siegmund); Leonie Rysanek, soprano (Sieglinde); Gottlob Frick, bass (Hunding); Ferdinand Frantz, bs-bar (Wotan); Martha Mödl, soprano (Brünnhilde); Margarete Klose, mezzo (Fricka); Erika Köth, soprano (Helmwige); Hertha Töpper, mezzo (Siegrune); Gerda Scheyrer, soprano (Gerhilde); Judith Hellwig, soprano (Ortlinde); Dagmar Schmedes, mezzo (Waltraute); Ruth Siewert, alto (Schwertleite); Johanna Blatter, mezzo (Grimgerde); Dagmar Hermann, mezzo (Rossweisse); Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra; Wilhelm Furtwängler, conductor / Available for free streaming on YouTube
WAGNER: Siegfried / Julius Patzak, tenor (Mime); Ludwig Suthaus, tenor (Siegfried); Ferdinand Frantz, bs-bar (Wanderer/Wotan); Alois Pernerstorfer, bar (Alberich); Margarete Klose, mezzo (Erda); Rita Streich, soprano (Waldvögel); Josef Greindl, bass (Fafner); Martha Mödl, soprano (Brünnhilde); RIAS Rome Symphony Orchestra; Wilhelm Furtwängler, conductor / Available for free streaming on YouTube
WAGNER: Götterdämmerung / Margarete Klose, mezzo (First Norn/Waltraute); Hilde Rössl-Majdan, mezzo (Second Norn/Flosshilde); Sena Jurinac, soprano (Woglinde/Third Norn/Gutrune); Martha Mödl, soprano (Brünnhilde); Ludwig Suthaus, tenor (Siegfried); Alfred Poell, baritone (Gunther); Josef Greindl, bass (Hagen); RAI Rome Symphony Orchestra & Chorus; Wilhelm Furtwängler, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
Way back in 1972, when the Furtwängler RAI Ring was first issued on LPs, I had already heard both the Solti and the Karl Böhm Rings, but except for Solti’s Das Rheingold this set completely blew me away. Why? It certainly wasn’t the boxy mono sound, since corrected now that the master tapes were finally released decades later. It was the combination of Furtwängler’s wonderfully phrased, idiomatic conducting and what has to be the greatest cast ever assembled for a Ring cycle in my experience. I mean, Sena Jurinac as the first Rhinemaiden and Third Norn? Julius Patzak as Mime? Plus such gold-plated Wagnerian voices as Margarete Klose, Hilde Rössl-Majdan, Rita Streich, Elisabeth Grümmer, Wolfgang Windgassen, Ludwig Suthaus and Ferdinand Frantz? Plus you get the most imposing Fafner and Hagen ever in Josef Greindl and by far the most expressive and moving Brünnhilde of all time in Martha Mödl. With no weak links in the casts, these performances are almost overwhelming.
As you can see in the above listing, however, I prefer the 1954 studio recording of Die Walküre to the 1953 live performance. Yes, a little of this comes from the fact that the Vienna Philharmonic is superior to the RAI Rome Symphony, but mostly it’s because his tempi are quicker and the phrasing more idiomatic, plus the fact that here you get Leonie Rysanek as Sieglinde, Suthaus as Siegmund and the fabulous Margarete Klose as Fricka. On top of this, Furtwängler considered this recording to be his last word on Walküre, so I include it in this set. If you’d like to hear the RAI Walküre, however, it too is available on YouTube.
Das Rheingold / Stella Andreva, soprano (Woglinde); Irra Petina, soprano (Wellgunde); Doris Doe, contralto (Flosshilde/Erda); Dorothee Manski, soprano (Freia); Eduard Habich, baritone (Alberich); Friedrich Schorr, baritone (Wotan); Karin Branzell, contralto (Fricka); Karl Laufkötter, tenor (Mime); Norman Cordon, bass (Fasolt); Emanuel List, bass (Fafner); René Maison, tenor (Loge); Julius Huehn, baritone (Donner); Metropolitan Opera Orchestra ; Artur Bodanzky, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
Das Rheingold / Oda Balsborg, soprano (Woglinde); Hetty Plümacher, soprano (Wellgunde); Ira Malaniuk, mezzo (Flosshilde); Gustav Neidlinger, bass-baritone (Alberich); George London, bass-baritone (Wotan); Kirsten Flagstad, mezzo (Fricka); Claire Watson, soprano (Freia); Paul Kuen, tenor (Mime); Walter Kreppel, bass (Fasolt); Kurt Böhme, bass (Fafner); Set Svanholm, tenor (Loge); Waldemar Kmentt, tenor (Froh); Eberhard Wächter, baritone (Donner); Jean Madeira, alto (Erda); Vienna Philharmonic Orch.; Georg Solti, cond / Decca 00028947879367
Three recordings of Das Rheingold, but bear with me and I’ll explain why I think all three are indispensable. The 1937 Metropolitan Opera broadcast features the warm, beautifully-sung Wotan of Friedrich Schorr, René Maison’s sarcastically jolly Loge, and Eduard Habich—an old-timer who had sung at Bayreuth in the early 20th century—as the most subtle and underhanded of all Alberichs. The 1958 Bayreuth performance conducted by Knappertsbusch is, for me, the best all-round performance of this opera despite the very fine mono sound (just look at the cast: Gorr, young Hotter, young Theo Adam, Grümmer, Kónya, Uhl and Sæden), and the 1958 recording conducted by Solti is, for me, the very finest of all stereo or digital recordings.
There are three reasons for this, all of which, I think, had to do with the fact that this was the launching pad for the entire Solti Ring. First, and perhaps most importantly, Decca went to fairly great lengths to procure the best singers for every role. The only somewhat unsteady voice in this performance is that of Ira Malaniuk, who sings the third Rhinemaiden. Although Jean Madeira had a pronounced vibrato, it was an even vibrato and not an uneven flutter or a wobble. George London always had a sound that resembled an incipient wobble, but if you compare him to virtually every other Wotan in Rheingold, he is rock-solid. And then there were the “luxury cast” members, for which Decca went out of their way to procure—star vocalists in roles normally sung by much lesser lights. Primary among these was Kirsten Flagstad as Fricka, but there was also Set Svanholm as Loge, Waldemat Kmentt as Froh and Eberhard Wächter as Donner.
Secondly, perhaps because this was the first Ring opera recorded, Solti’s conducting here is much more straightforward and has more forward movement than in the other three operas. This may sound like a small thing, but it is not. His pacing and shaping of the score, excepting a few moments (such as Erda’s “Weiche, Wotan, weiche”), is unified and logical, and he had here an instinctive feeling for how to make each and every scene make its proper impact.
And thirdly, producer John Culshaw created a wonderful “theater of sound” here without overdoing the gimmicky effects that marred some scenes in the later operas. At only one point (right after Alberich’s Curse) does the orchestra completely overwhelm the singers so that they can’t be clearly heard. In the later recordings, such moments were far more frequent, and annoying.
The brevity of this opera when compared to the latter three may also have had something to do with the greater continuity and evolving sense of drama that one hears, but with only a few momentary exceptions this is a performance that builds in its drama from start to finish. Thus I recommend this above all other competition.
Die Walküre / Günther Treptow, tenor (Siegmund); Hilde Konetzni, soprano (Sieglinde); Ludwig Weber, bass (Hunding); Ferdinand Frantz, baritone (Wotan); Elisabeth Höngen, mezzo (Fricka); Kirsten Flagstad, soprano (Brünnhilde); Walburga Wegener, soprano (Gerhilde); Ilona Steingrüber, soprano (Helmwige); Karen Marie Crkall, soprano (Ortlinde); Margherita Kenney, mezzo (Siegrune); Dagmar Schmedes, contralto (Waltraute); Margret Weth-Falke, mezzo (Rossweise); Sieglinde Wagner, mezzo (Grimgerde); Teatro alla Scala, Milan Orchestra; Wilhelm Furtwängler, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
Die Walküre / Ramon Vinay, tenor (Siegmund); Gré Brouwenstijn, soprano (Sieglinde); Josef Greindl, bass (Hunding); Hans Hotter, bass-baritone (Wotan); Georgine von Milinkovic, mez (Fricka/Grimgerde); Astrid Varnay, soprano (Brünnhilde); Hertha Wilfert, soprano (Gerhilde); Hilde Scheppan, soprano (Helmwige); Gerda Lammers, soprano (Ortlinde); Jean Watson, mezzo (Siegrune); Elisabeth Schärtel, contralto (Waltraute); Maria Graf, contralto (Rossweise); Bayreuth Festival Orchestra; Joseph Keilberth, conductor / Testament SBT4 1391 or available for free streaming on YouTube in individual acts
My two favorite Walküres, and both have strengths and weaknesses. Hilde Konetzni has a less attractive voice or dramatic interpretation of Sieglinde than Brouwenstijn, but Ramon Vinay is one of the greatest Siegmunds on record. Varnay is in superb voice as Brünnhilde, but Flagstad surpasses her. Both are tautly conducted and tremendously exciting. Just get both.
Siegfried / Paul Kuen, tenor (Mime); Wolfgang Windgassen, tenor (Siegfried); Hans Hotter, bass-baritone (Wanderer/Wotan); Ilse Höllweg, soprano (Waldvögel); Maria von Ilosvay, contralto (Erda); Gustav Neidlinger, baritone (Alberich); Josef Greindl, bass (Fafner); Astrid Varnay, soprano (Brünnhilde); Bayreuth Festival Orchestra; Joseph Keilberth, conductor / Testament SBT4 1392 or available for free streaming on YouTube in individual acts
Siegfried / Gerhard Stolze, tenor (Mime); Ticho Parly, tenor (Siegfried); Josef Greindl, bass (Wanderer/Wotan); Erika Koth, soprano (Waldvögel); Marga Höffgen, contralto (Erda); Gustav Neidlinger, baritone (Alberich); Peter Meven, bass (Fafner); Berit Lindholm, soprano (Brünnhilde); Bayreuth Festival Orchestra; Lorin Maazel, conductor / Opera Depot OD 10700-3, available HERE
Although the Maazel performance was recorded 13 years after the Keilberth, the first was professionally taped in stereo while the second seems to come from a homemade Presto machine from a bad shortwave broadcast, thus it is the Maazel that I value as the “historic” recording while the Keilberth is my stereo preference. Many vocal buffs detest Ticho Parly, but in this performance his voice rings out heroically from start to finish. Lindholm is an outstanding Brünnhilde, Greindl does pretty well as Wotan/the Wanderer, and Gerhard Stolze is by far the most interesting Mime ever recorded.
Götterdämmerung / Doris Doe, mezzo (First Norn/Flosshilde); Irra Petina, soprano (Second Norn); Dorothee Manski, mezzo (Third Norn); Marjorie Lawrence, soprano (Brünnhilde); Lauritz Melchior, tenor (Siegfried); Kathryn Meisle, mezzo-soprano (Waltraute); Friedrich Schorr, baritone (Gunther); Dorothee Manski, soprano (Gutrune); Eduard Habich, baritone (Alberich); Ludwig Weber, bass (Hagen); Max Altglass, tenor (Vassal); Metropolitan Opera Chorus & Orchestra; Artur Bodanzky, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
The sound is very rough to say the least, but the performance is tremendously exciting and for the most part well-sung. I would, however, urge you to splice in all of Brünnhilde’s scenes as sung by the great Frida Leider and Kerstin Thorborg as Waltraute, with Wilhelm Furtwängler and Sir Thomas Beecham alternating as conductors.
Götterdämmerung / Maria von Ilosvay, soprano (1st Norn/Wellgunde); Georgine von Milinkovič, soprano (2nd Norn); Mina Bolotine, contralto (3rd Norn); Astrid Varnay, soprano (Brünnhilde); Wolfgang Windgassen, tenor (Siegfried); Gré Brouwenstijn, soprano (Gutrune); Josef Greindl, bass (Hagen); Hermann Uhde, baritone (Gunther); Gustav Neidlinger, baritone (Alberich); Elisabeth Schärtel, contralto (Waltraute); Maria Graf, soprano (Flosshilde); Jutta Vulpius, mezzo (Woglinde); Bayreuth Festival Orchestra & Chorus; Joseph Keilberth, conductor / Testament SBT4 1433 or available for free streaming on YouTube in individual acts
And this, of course, is my preferred stereo Götterdämmerung. Everyone is in great voice, and Keilberth conducts as if his life depended on it.
WAGNER: Tannhäuser (abridged) / Sigismund Pilinszky, tenor (Tannhäuser); Ruth Jost-Arden, mezzo (Venus); Ivar Andresen, bass (Landgraf Hermann); Herbert Janssen, baritone (Wolfram); Maria Müller, soprano (Elisabeth); Geza Belti-Pilinszky, tenor (Walther); Georg von Tschurtschenthaler, baritone (Biterolf); Joachim Sattler, tenor (Heinrich der Schreiber); Carl Stralendorf, bass (Reinmar von Zweter); Erna Berger, soprano (A young shepherd); Bayreuth Festival Chorus & Orchestra; Karl Elmendorff, conductor / Naxos 8.110094-95 or available for free streaming on YouTube in individual acts
This is the 1930 Bayreuth production of Tannhäuser, rehearsed and conducted in the theater by Toscanini but, due to contractural reasons, conducted by Elmendorff for the recording. The composer’s son Siegfried made the abridgements of acts 2 and 3 in order to fit it onto less 78s for the album, and he did a good job for the most part. Pilinszky is a rather nasal Tannhäuser, but he sings powerfully and musically (ironically, his understudy for this role that year was Lauritz Melchior!). Müller is a youthful, bright-voiced Elisabeth, Ivar Andresen a powerfully-voiced Landgraf, Janssen was in good voice here as Wolfram, and Ruth Jost-Arden, a Toscanini protégé, was in my view one of the most sumptuous-sounding Venuses of all time. The sound is a little scrappy but the combination of Elmendorff’s brisk tempi and Toscanini’s transparency of orchestral sound makes the performance really come alive.
WAGNER: Tannhäuser / Hans Sotin, bass (Herman, Landgraf); Helga Dernesch, soprano (Elisabeth); René Kollo, tenor (Tannhäuser); Victor Braun, baritone (Wolfram); Werner Hollweg, tenor (Walther); Kurt Equiluz, tenor (Heinrich der Schreiber); Manfred Jungwirth, baritone (Biterolf); Norman Bailey, bass (Reinmar von Zweiter); Christa Ludwig, contralto (Venus); Vienna Boys’ Choir; Vienna State Opera Chorus; Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra; Sir Georg Solti, conductor / Decca 470810 or available for free streaming on YouTube
Everything clicked on this 1970 studio recording of Tannhäuser, certainly one of Georg Solti’s finest achievements. Everyone is in fresh voice, everyone sounds involved, and the whole thing takes off in a spectacular way. I’m not sure this performance will ever be surpassed.
WAGNER: Tristan und Isolde (slightly abridged) / Kirsten Flagstad, soprano (Isolde); Lauritz Melchior, tenor (Tristan); Sabine Kalter, contralto (Brangäne); Herbert Janssen, baritone (Kurwenal); Emanuel List, bass (King Marke); Frank Sale, tenor (Melot); Roy Devereux, tenor (Young Sailor); Octave Düa, soprano (Shepherd); Royal Opera, Covent Garden Chorus; London Philharmonic Orchestra; Fritz Reiner, conductor / Naxos 8.11068-70 or available for free streaming on YouTube
But for the abridgements in the score, common at the time but still frustrating, this Tristan is the go-to version for the sumptuous singing of the three big principals, Flagstad, Melchior and Kalter, the little-known but sumptuous-sounding mezzo in the role of Brangäne. The one downer in the cast is Emanuel List, whose tight, thin, dry-sounding bass does not do justice to King Marke’s music. And, of course, the sound is historic mono.
WAGNER: Tristan und Isolde / Helena Braun, soprano (Isolde); Margarete Klöse, contralto (Brangäne); Fritz Richard Bender, tenor (Seaman); Gunther Treptow, tenor (Tristan); Paul Schöffler, baritone (Kurwenal); Peter Albrecht, tenor (Melot); Ferdinand Frantz, bass-baritone (King Marke); Paul Küen, tenor (Shepherd); Bavarian State Opera Chorus & Orchestra; Hans Knappertsbusch, conductor / Andromeda 9011or available for free streaming on YouTube
This 1950 broadcast from the Munich Opera is unusual in several respects. Firstly, tenor Gunther Treptow, whose voice usually sounded bright but not full, sounds unbelievably splendid here as Tristan. Secondly, this is the only Hans Knappertsbusch performance I’ve ever seen that did not take place in Bayreuth. And thirdly, Knappertsbusch eschews his normally leisurely style to conduct the opera as if his britches were on fire. Everyone’s in great voice, and the whole performance has the smell of the theater about it. Had Flagstad and Melchior been the soprano and tenor, it would surely surpass the 1936 recording.
WAGNER: Tristan und Isolde: Act I; Acts II & III / Poul Elming, tenor (Young Sailor/Steersman); Siegfried Jerusalem, tenor (Tristan); Waltraud Meier, soprano (Isolde); Uta Priew, mezzo-soprano (Brangäne); Falk Struckmann, baritone (Kurwenal); Matthias Hölle, bass (King Marke); Poul Elming, tenor (Melot/Steersman); Sandor Solyom-Nagy, tenor (A steersman); Peter Maus, tenor (A shepherd); Bayreuth Festival Chorus & Orchestra; Daniel Barenboim, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking act titles above
The best of the stereo or digital recordings of this opera. There is also an alternative studio recording in which Marjana Lipovšek is a superior Brangäne and Matti Salminen is King Marke on Teldec.
WAGNER: Wesendonck Lieder / Martha Mödl, soprano; Bamberg Symphony Orchestra; Joseph Keilberth, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
WAGNER: Wesendonck Lieder: I. Der Engel; II. Stehe Still; III. Im Treibhaus; IV. Schmerzen; V. Traume / Anne Schwanewilms, soprano; Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra; Cornelius Meister, conductor / available for streaming on YouTube by clicking song titles above
Two complementary yet contrasting performances of Wagner’s very fine song cycle. Martha Mödl’s voice has a drop of acid in the tone, but her sound is steady and her interpretations are deep and penetrating; Anne Schwanewilms is not quite as intense, but her voice is rich, beautiful and creamy. Both are recommended.
WALLEN: Are You Worried About the Rising Cost of Funerals? / Patricia Rozario, soprano; David Le Page, Kirsty Steines, violinists; David Aspin, violist; Joseph Spooner, cellist; Philip Headlam, conductor / Dervish for Cello & Piano / Matthew Sharp, cellist; Dominic Harlan, pianist / The Girl in My Alphabet / Douglas Finch, Errrollyn Wallen, toy pianists / Horseplay for Ensemble / The Continuum Ensemble; Philip Headlam, conductor / In Our Lifetime for Baritone & Tape / Mike Henry, baritone / Louis’ Loops for Toy Piano / Margaret Leng Tan, toy pianist / Woogie Boogie / Rachel Barton Pine, violinist; Matthew Hagle, pianist / Avie 0006 or available for free streaming in small bits on YouTube
WALLEN: Cello Concerto.* Photography (A Jelly Bean Extravaganza) / *Matthew Sharp, cellist; Ensemble X; Nicholas Kok, conductor / Hunger / The Continuum Ensemble; Philip Headlam, conductor / In Earth / Errollyn Wallen, vocal; Tim Harries, bass guitarist; Quartet X / NMC 221 or available for free streaming on YouTube beginning HERE
In a world where Kaja Saariaho is celebrated internationally as “the” female composer of the day, Belize-born Errollyn Wallen’s much more substantial music is generally marginalized. This is wholly unfair, as these superb works will show. Her music is creative, well-structured yet whimsical and inviting, none of which Saariaho’s music is.
WALTON: Anon in Love / Peter Pears, tenor; Julian Bream, guitarist / available for free streaming on YouTube
A wonderful but oft-neglected song by Walton, performed superbly by Pears and Bream.
WALTON: Façade / Dame Edith Sitwell, Peter Pears, speakers; English Opera Group Ensemble; Anthony Collins, conductor / part of Alto 1026, also available for free streaming in small bits on YouTube
The downside of this recording is that it is in mono and has very tubby sound, which dulls the impact of the orchestra somewhat. The upside is that you have Peter Pears and Edith Sitwell herself reading the poems, and the effect is utterly delightful.
WALTON: Façade / Carole Boyd, Zeb Soames, speakers; ad hoc ensemble, John Wilson, conductor / Orchid Classics 100067 or available for free streaming on YouTube beginning HERE
In my view, this is the best of the modern stereo recordings of this whimsical work.
WALTON: Partita for Orchestra. Sonata for String Orchestra. Viola Concerto / James Ehnes, violist; BBC Symphony Orchestra; Edward Gardner, conductor / Chandos 5210
A superb album of sometimes-neglected works by Walton, well conducted by Gardner. Janes Ehnes is fantastic in the viola concerto, too!
WALTON: Portsmouth Point / London Philharmonic Orchestra; Sir Adrian Boult, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
Three of Walton’s most delightful orchestral works, excellently performed by Boult and Hickox respectively.
WARLOCK: Songs: As Ever I Saw; Captain Stratton’s Fancy; Chop Cherry; Come, My Celia; Consider; A Cornish Christmas Carol; Corpus Christi; Fair and True; The First Mercy; Flow not fast, ye fountains; The Fox; The Frostbound Wood; Milkmaids; My Own Country; O eyes, o mortal stars; Oh Good Ale; Passing By; The Passionate Shepherd; Piggesnie; Pretty Ring Time; Rest, Sweet Nymphs; Sigh No More; Six Nursery Jingles; Sleep; Sweet and Kind; Sweet and Twenty; Take, O take those lips away; There is a garden in her face; Yarmouth Fair. Capriol Suite (3 versions). Corpus Christi (3 versions). The Curlew. Serenade for Strings / Billy Neely, boy soprano; Nancy Evans, Amy Wood, Flora Nielsen, contraltos; Parry Jones, Peter Pears, René Soames, tenors; Roy Henderson, Peter Dawson, John Armstrong, John Goss, Dennis Noble, baritones; Gerald Moore, Eric Griffin, Nikita Magaloff, pianists; Aeolian String Quartet; International String Quartet; Diana Poulton, lutenist; Josef Szigeti, violinist; Anthony Bernard, Constant Lambert, John Barbirolli, conductors / Divine Art 27811, available for free streaming on YouTube in individual selections
Despite the fact that these are all vintage mono recordings, this is clearly the finest and most idiomatic collection of the music of the wide-ranging but enigmatic British composer Philip Heseltine, who went by the name of Peter Warlock, and who committed suicide for still-unknown reasons at the height of his popularity in Great Britain. I would give this set six fish easily if the sound were a bit clearer on some of the tracks.
Warshaw, Dalit Hadass
WARSHAW: Desert Call / Wendy Warner, cellist / The “Dreidl” Variations. Nizk’orah for 2 Theremins & Piano / Dalit Hadass Warshaw, pianist/thereminist / Fable for String Quartet. Transformations / The Momentus Quartet; Warshaw, thereminist / Kiddush ha-Levanah / Re’ut ben Ze’ev, soprano; Warshaw, pianist / Albany 1238 or available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking individual titles above
Here is yet another woman composer who gets little or no exposure, yet whose music is remarkably moving and original.
Weber, Carl Maria von
WEBER: Abu Hassan / Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, soprano (Fatime); Erich Witte, tenor (Abu Hassan); Michael Bohnen, bass (Omar); Berlin Radio Symphony Chorus & Orchestra; Leopold Ludwig, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
I think this is Weber’s wittiest and most delightful comic opera, and this December 1944 recording is so good in nearly every respect that it has never been equaled.
WEBER: Clarinet Concerti Nos. 1 & 2 / Benny Goodman, clarinetist; Chicago Symphony Orchestra; Jean Martinon, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube in individual movements
I really love these recordings, in part because I saw Goodman in person playing one of the concerti (I forget which one now) back in 1967 and was utterly enchanted by it.
WEBER: Euryanthe / Kurt Böhme, bass (King Ludwig VI); Joan Sutherland, soprano (Euryanthe); Marianne Schech, soprano (Eglantine); Frans Vroons, tenor (Adolar); Otakar Kraus, baritone (Lysiart); Beryl Hatt, soprano (Bertha); Lloyd Strauss-Smith, tenor (Rudolf); BBC Chorus & Symphony Orch.; Fritz Stiedry, cond / Naxos NI7969 (live: London, 1955)
This famous live radio broadcast of Euryanthe, though cut (and lacking the soprano’s biggest aria), has had a wealth of circulation over the decades solely due to the presence of Joan Sutherland in the title role. Yet the supporting cast is extremely good–finer, in fact, than that of the commercial stereo recordings of the opera–and this specific reissue has excellent sound for its time, which elevates it, for me, from 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 fish. The libretto is poorly written and dumb, but the music is outstanding; it influenced both Schumann’s Genoveva and Wagner’s Tannhäuser.
WEBER: Der Freischütz / Peter Schreier, tenor (Max); Gunther Lieb, baritone (Kilian); Theo Adam, bass (Kaspar); Siegfried Vogel, baritone (Kuno); Gundula Janowitz, soprano (Agathe); Edith Mathis, soprano (Annchen); Bernd Weikl, baritone (Prince Ottokar); Franz Crass, bass (A Hermit); Rundfunkchor Leipzig; Staatskapelle Dresden; Carlos Kleiber, conductor / Deutsche Grammophon 457736 or available for free streaming on YouTube
True, Peter Schreier’s small tenor voice would not have made an ideal Max in the opera house, but a recording is not a theater and he really sings exceptionally well, and everyone else is superb in his or her roles. On top of that, Kleiber conducts as if he and the orchestra were on fire.
WEBER: Invitation to the Dance / Alfred Cortot, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube
No one yet has surpassed Cortot’s 1926 recording of this famous piece.
WEBER: Invitation to the Dance (orch. Berlioz) / NBC Symphony Orchestra; Arturo Toscanini, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
Toscanini made two recordings of this piece, but the 1937 BBC Symphony version is too fast and sounds a bit rushed while this one has lightness and charm.
WEBER: Oberon / Gary Lakes, tenor (Oberon); Ben Heppner, tenor (Huon); Deborah Voigt, soprano (Rezia); Delores Ziegler, mezzo (Fatime); Dwayne Croft, baritone (Scherasmin); Victoria Livengood, mezzo (Puck); Ludwig Boettger, speaker (Narrator); Cologne State Opera Chorus; Cologne Philharmonic Orchestra; James Conlon, conductor / EMI Classics 54739 (available from Arkivmusic)
Most people, myself included, find this “fantastic” opera by Weber to be sadly uneven in quality, but there is certainly enough good music in it to make a 70-minute CD. It may also be hard to believe that this was the recording debut of two singers destined for stardom, soprano Deborah Voigt and Canadian tenor Ben Heppner.
WEBER: Piano Concerto No. 2 in E-flat: I. Allegro maestoso; II. Adagio; III. Rondo: Presto / Ludwig Hoffmann, pianist; SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg; Michael Gielen, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking movement titles above
Weber’s piano concerti sound strangely like instrumental excerpts from his operas, yet this one has its own charm and delights precisely because it sounds so operatic.
WEBERN: Cantata No. 1, Op. 29 / Claire Booth, soprano; Simon Joly Chorale; Philharmonia Orchestra; Robert Craft, conductor / 4 Songs, Op. 12. 5 Songs from Der siebente Ring, Op. 3. 5 Songs on Poems by Stefan George, Op. 4. 3 Songs from Viae inviae, Op. 23. 3 Songs on Poems by Hildegard Jone / Tony Arnold, soprano; Jacob Greenberg, pianist / String Quartet. 6 Bagatelles for String Quartet / Rolf Schulte, Tai Murray, violinists; David Fulmer, violist; Fred Sherry, cellist / Naxos 8.557516 or available for free streaming in small bits on YouTube
WEBERN: 5 Pieces for Orchestra / Columbia Symphony Orchestra; Robert Craft, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
WEBERN: Quartet for Tenor Saxophone, Clarinet, Violin & Piano: I. Sehr mäβig; II. Sehr schwungvoll / J. Clyde Williams, tenor saxophonist; Earl Thomas, clarinetist; Francis Chaplin, violinist; Jacques Louis Monod, pianist; René Leibowitz, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking movement titles above
WEBERN: Variations for Piano / Glenn Gould, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube
The astringent serial music of Anton Webern is scarcely popular, even today, and I admit that some of it escapes me even when I can follow it. I heard Pierre Boulez conduct the 5 Pieces for Orchestra with the New York Philharmonic in the mid-1970s and found them cold, but I really do like Robert Craft’s performance of them much better. I also like the vocal music quite a bit, as well as the tenor saxophone quartet.
WEILL: Threepenny Opera / Roy Brocksmith, tenor (Ballad Singer); C.K. Alexander, baritone (Peachum); Elizabeth Wilson, mezzo (Mrs. Peachum); Raul Julia, baritone (Macheath); David Sabin, baritone (Tiger Brown); Caroline Kava, soprano (Polly Peachum); Ellen Greene, mezzo (Pirate Jenny); Blair Brown, soprano (Lucy Brown); Stanley Silverman, conductor / Sony 51520, reissued by Arkivmusic (also available for streaming in small bits on YouTube)
I have to be honest: I really don’t much like most of Kurt Weill’s music. I find him to have been essentially a classically-trained pop song writer, and the songs have an abrasive form and oftimes abrasive harmonic base. I think The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny is a really disgusting story peopled by disgusting characters.
Threepenny Opera is also peopled by what you would call the vermin of society—a murderer, whores, phony beggars and a completely corrupt police chief—but it has a sort of black humor about it that appeals to my whimsical side. “The Ballad of Immoral Earnings” may be a bit gross, but it pretty much sums up (I believe) where our society was headed and, worse yet, what it has become, an era where having sex with multiple partners, birthing children without marriage, indulging in orgies and having abortions without conscience are not only commonplace but lauded as the right way to live, and in this respect Weill and his librettist, Berthold Brecht (a truly weird human being) were decades ahead of their time. So yes, I can call this art if one realizes that it does not by itself try to normalize decadence but, rather, explains it as the last resort of gutter dwellers in the slums of most big cities worldwide.
WEINBERG: Aria. Capriccio. String Quartets Nos. 1-17 (Complete) / Quatuor Danel / CPO 777913
WEINBERG: Cello Concerto: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3 / Mstislav Rostropovich, cellist; USSR State Radio & TV Symphony Orchestra; Gennady Rozhdestvensky, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking sections above
WEINBERG: Cello Sonata No. 2: I. Moderato; II. Andante; III. Allegro / Andrew Yee, cellist; Jeanne Golan, pianist / part of Calliope 1747 (see Szymanowski String Quartets), available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking movement titles above
WEINBERG: Children’s Notebook, Books 1-3. 21 Easy Pieces. 2 Fugues for Ludmila Berlinskaya. Lullaby. 2 Mazurkas. Partita. Piano Sonata, Op. 49b. Piano Sonatas Nos. 1-6. Piano Sonatina / Allison Brewster Franzetti, pianist; Grand Piano GP698-701 or available for free streaming in small bits on YouTube
WEINBERG: Fantasia for Cello & Orchestra / Claës Gunnarsson, cellist; Göteborg Symphoniker; Thord Svedlund, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
WEINBERG: Piano Quintet in F min., Op. 18 / ARC Ensemble / available for free streaming on YouTube
WEINBERG: Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes. Symphony No. 6 / St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra; Vladimir Lande, conductor / Naxos 8.572779; Rhapsody available for free streaming on YouTube
WEINBERG: Symphony No. 3, Op. 49 / Gothenberg Symphony Orchestra; Thor Svedlund, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
WEINBERG: Symphonies Nos. 4 & 5 / National Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra; Gabriel Chmura, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
WEINBERG: Symphony No. 7: I. Adagio sostenuto; II. Allegro; III. Andante; IV. Adagio sostenuto; V. Allegro / The Moscow Chamber Orchestra; Rudolf Barshai, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking movement titles above
WEINBERG: Symphony No. 8, “Polish Flowers” / Rafal Bartmiński, tenor; Magdalena Dobrowolska, soprano; Ewa Marciniek, contralto; Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra & Chorus; Antoni Wit, conductor / Naxos 8. 572873
WEINBERG: Symphony No. 13; Serenade for Orchestra / Siberian State Symphony Orchestra; Vladimir Lande, conductor / Naxos 8.573879; Symphony available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking title above; Serenade available for streaming in small bits
WEINBERG: Symphonies Nos. 14 & 16 / Gabriel Chmura, conductor / available for free streaming in small bits on YouTube
WEINBERG: Symphony No. 17, “Memory”: I. Allegro sostenuto; II. Allegro molto; III. Allegro moderato; IV. Andante / Vienna Symphony Orchestra; Vladimir Fedoseyev, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking movement titles above
WEINBERG: Symphony No. 18, “War – There is no word more cruel.” Trumpet Concerto / Andrew Ballo, trumpeter; St. Petersburg Chamber Choir & State Symphony Orchestra; Vladimir Lande, conductor / Naxos 8.573190
WEINBERG: Symphony No. 19, “Bright May” / St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra; Vladimir Lande, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
WEINBERG: Symphony No. 20, Op. 150 / Gothenberg Symphony Orchestra; Thor Svedlund, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
WEINBERG: Violin Concerto: I. Allegro molto; II. Allegretto; III. Adagio; IV. Allegro risoluto / Leonid Kogan, violinist; Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra; Kiril Kondrashin, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking title names above
WEINBERG: Violin Sonatas Nos. 1-6 / Grigory Kalinovsky, violinist; Tatiana Goncharova, pianist / Naxos 8.572320-21 or available for free streaming on YouTube starting HERE
Mieczyslaw Weinberg (his last name was pronounced, and often spelled, Vainberg) was a Polish-Jewish composer who showed great promise by the late 1930s, but who had to flee Poland after the Nazi invasion of 1939. He went to the Soviet Union, where he spent the rest of his life and became a close friend of Dmitri Shostakovich. Thanks to Shostakovich’s connections, his Cello Concerto was premiered by no less than Mstislav Rostropovich and his Violin Concerto by Leonid Kogan, but by and large his music was ignored. In the late 1960s-early ‘70s he wrote some delightful background music for a Soviet cartoon series on Winnie-the-Pooh, some of which can be seen and heard on YouTube as well, but he pretty much kept his serious music to himself, continuing to write into the 1990s. Sadly, it has only been after his death in 1996 that his music has finally come into its own.
He clearly had his own voice, in fact several voices and a variety of styles. His symphonies are unusual in that they do not follow strict symphonic form but, rather, sound like large musical fantasias for orchestra and often for chorus and/or soloists. All of the performances listed above are first-rate and thus a good representation of his output.
WILDER: Bull Fiddles in a China Shop. Her Old Man Was Suspicious. Dance Man Buys a Farm. His First Long Pants. The House Detective Registers. Kindergarten Flower Pageant. The Neurotic Goldfish. It’s Silk, Feel It! Remember Me to Youth. Sea Fugue Mama. Seldom the Sun. Walking Home in Spring / Alec Wilder Octet / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking titles above
WILDER: 5 Love Songs. Horn Sonatas Nos. 1 & 2.* John Barrows. Suite for Horn & Piano/ Charles Tibbetts, French hornist; Penelope Cecchini, *Wolfgang Heinzel, pianists / Albany 1398 or available for free streaming in small bits on YouTube
WILDER: Jazz Suite for Four Horns.* Suite for Clarinet, Horn & Piano.+ Suites Nos. 1 & 2 for Horn, Tuba & Piano / Charles Tibbetts, French hornist; *William Hoyt, Ricardo Almeida, David Kappy, hornists; *Henning Backhaus, guitar/bass/drums; +Maurita Murphy Marx, clarinetist; Michael Forbes, tubist; Vincent Fuh, pianist/*harpsichordist / Albany 1520 or available for free streaming in small bits on YouTube
Alec Wilder walked a tightrope between composing whimsical yet complex jazz-classical octets with silly, Raymond Scott-like titles and more serious pieces for his close friend, French horn player John Barrows, a founding member of the New York Woodwind Quintet. Somewhere in between was his Jazz Suite for four horns, harpsichord and rhythm section. During the period in which Mitch Miller was the pop music A&R man for Columbia records, he insisted on recording and issuing a performance of the last movement from the latter, played by jazz pianist Stan Freeman on harpsichord and French hornists Barrows, Jimmy Buffington, Ray Alongo and Gunther Schuller (Sal Salvador played the guitar and Terry Snyder was the drummer). It bombed, as did most recordings of Wilder’s music, which was considered too highbrow for pop music audiences and too lowbrow for classical listeners. But musicians LOVED his music, and no less a personage than Frank Sinatra actually led a recording session for Columbia in the late 1940s of Wilder’s music, which sold a little better but only because it had Sinatra’s name on it. He also wrote the hit tune I’ll Be Around for the Mills Brothers, While We’re Young for Peggy Lee and Where Do You Go? for Sinatra. Wilder died a disillusioned and disappointed man in 1980.
WILLIAMS: Elegy for Cynddylan, for Trumpet & Piano (1970) / Philippe Schartz, trumpeter; Christopher Williams, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube
WILLIAMS: Carillons for Oboe & Orchestra / Anthony Camden, oboist; London Symphony Orchestra; Sir Charles Groves, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
WILLIAMS: Fairest of Stars for Soprano & Orchestra (1973) / Janet Price, soprano; London Symphony Orchestra; Sir Charles Groves, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
WILLIAMS: Fantasia on Welsh Nursery Tunes (1938) / BBC National Orchestra of Wales; Tecwyn Evans, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
WILLIAMS: 4 Illustrations for the Legend of Rhiannon (1939-40) / BBC National Orchestra of Wales; Perry So, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
WILLIAMS: Penillion, Symphonic Poem for Orchestra (1955) / BBC National Orchestra of Wales; Owain Arwel Hughes, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
WILLIAMS: 6 Poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1958) / Helen Watts, contralto; Simon Standage, Elizabeth Shenton, violinists; Richard Williamson, Simon Whistler, violists; John Heley, Shuna Wilson, cellists; Richard Hickox, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
WILLIAMS: Sinfonia Concertante for Piano & Orchestra (1941) / Huw Watkins, pianist; BBC National Orchestra of Wales; Tadaaki Otaka, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
WILLIAMS: Symphonic Impressions [Symphony No. 1] (1943) / BBC National Orchestra of Wales; Owain Arwel Hughes, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
WILLIAMS: Symphony No. 2 (1956, rev. 1975) / BBC National Orchestra of Wales; Vernon Handley, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
WILLIAMS: Trumpet Concerto (1963) / Howard Snell, trumpeter; London Symphony Orchestra; Sir Charles Groves, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
WILLIAMS: Violin Concerto (1950) / Matthew Trusler, violinist; BBC National Orchestra of Wales; Jason Lai, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
WILLIAMS: Violin Sonata / Madeleine Mitchell, violinist; Konstantin Lapshin, pianist / Sextet for Oboe, Trumpet, Violin, Viola, Cello & Piano / John Anderson, oboist; Bruce Nockles, trumpeter; Gordon Mackay, violinist; Roger Chase, violist; Joseph Spooner, cellist; David Owen Norris, pianist / Suite for Nine Instruments / London Chamber Ensemble / Romanza for Oboe & Bass Clarinet / Anderson, oboist; Andrew Sparling, bass-clarinetist / Sarabande for Piano Left Hand / Norris, pianist / Rondo for Dancing for 2 Violins & Optional Cello / Mitchell, Mackay, violinists; Spooner, cellist / Naxos 8.571380
Grace Williams (1906-1977) may be the greatest composer, let alone the greatest women composer, you’ve never heard of. A child prodigy in a household that loved music, she honed her craft under Ralph Vaughan Williams and other composition teachers, then began writing her own original music in the late 1920s, seldom stopping until her death. But Williams was extremely self-critical, often burying works she felt unworthy (like the superb Violin Sonata) or destroying the manuscripts entirely. A bit of a loner who taught at a local music school to earn a living, she was praised and promoted by Benjamin Britten after World War II but turned down an offer to be his assistant. Her music reflects not only the style of the more modern British composers of her time but also the influences of Bartók, Shostakovich and, later, Stravinsky, all the while creating and refining her own personal voice. The works listed above are the ones that impressed me the most, although one can also find her Missa Cambrensis on YouTube as well. One of the handicaps to a dissemination of her music is the fact that very little of it has been commercially recorded. Except for the full album of chamber music on Naxos listed above, the only commercial recordings listed here are the 6 Poems with Helen Watts and Richard Hickox and the three performances directed by Sir Charles Groves (Carillons, Fairest of Stars and the Trumpet Concerto). All of the others are BBC Wales live broadcasts, and all of those are from the 21st century, long after Williams passed away. Yet you will seldom if ever discover a more original, exciting yet orderly musical mind in the entire history of music. I urge you to listen to these works; they are all gems.
WOLF-FERRARI: Il Segreto di Susanna. Serenade for Strings in Eb / Judith Howarth, soprano (Susanna); Àngel Òdena, baritone (Gil); Oviedo Filarmonía; Friedrich Haider, conductor / Naxos 8.660385
This superbly-written comic opera was extremely popular for about 16 years, then dropped out of sight because Susanna’s “secret” was that she smoked and, by 1922, many women were smoking in public, but the music is simply wonderful and one could easily revive it today in the PC culture of non-smoking. The performance on this CD is not only lively but exceptionally well sung.
WOLF-FERRARI: Violin Concerto in D, Op. 26 / Guila Bustabo, violinist; Munich Philharmonic Orchestra; Rudolf Kempe, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari, mostly remembered for his second-rate verismo opera The Secret of Susanna (her secret is that she smokes cigarettes), wrote this excellent violin concerto for the brilliant but shamed American-born violinist Guila Bustabo, and her performance is definitive.
WOLF: Italienisches Liederbuch (complete) / Michaela Selinger, mezzo; Wolfgang Holzmair, bar; Georg Beckmann, pno / part of Bridge 9378 or available for free streaming in small bits on YouTube
WOLF: Italienisches Liederbuch (complete) / Janet Baker, mezzo; John Shirley-Quirk, bar; Steuart Bedford, pno / ICA Classics 5078 or available for free streaming in small bits on YouTube
Two outstanding recordings of this wonderful song cycle, both highly recommended—yet the interpretations in both are slightly different. You need both.
WOLF: Italianische Serenade / Budapest String Quartet / part of Biddulph S0319
Once easily available on a 3-LP set issued by Columbia/Odyssey, it is now only available as part of a multi-CD set from Biddulph, but no one plays it better.
WOLF: Michaelangelo Lieder: Wohl denk ich oft an mein vergangnes Leben; Alles endet, was entstehet; Fühlt meine Seele das ersehnte Licht / Alexander Kipnis, bass; Coenraad V. Bos, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube
Kipnis was a rarity in his time, a well-established opera singer with a beautiful voice who was also an outstanding lieder singer. No one has yet surpassed these recordings.
WOLF: Mörike Lieder: Abschied; Begegnung; Bei einer Trauung; Der Feuerreiter; Der Gensene an die Hoffnung; In der Frühe; Lebe wohl; Nimmersatte Liebe; Selbtgeständnis; Storchenbotschaft; Um Mitternacht; Der Tambour; Verborgenheit; Zur Warnung / Siegfried Lorenz, baritone; Norman Shetler, pianist / Brilliant Classics 94705 or available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking individual titles above
Surprisingly excellent performances from a baritone who is not a household name.
WOLF: Spanisches Liederbuch / Anne Sofie von Otter, mez; Geoffrey Parsons, pno / available for free streaming on YouTube
Despite many competitors, this is the performance that moves me the most.
WOLF: Various lieder: Anakreons Grab; Fussreise; In der Fruhe; Nun wandre, Maria / Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone; Gerald Moore, pianist / Auch kleine Dinge; Ganymed; Herr, was trägt der Boden hier? / John McCormack, tenor; Edwin Schneider, pianist / In dem Schatten meiner locken / Elisabeth Schumann, soprano; Ernest Lush, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking individual titles above
WOLF: Verschweigene Liebe / Leo Slezak, tenor; Heinrich Schacker, pianist / available free streaming on YouTube
These historic recordings are clearly among the best ever recorded.
WOLFGANG: Flurry / Judith Farmer, bassoonist; Nic Gerpe, pianist / New England Travelogue / Eclipse Quartet; Judith Pearce Martin, pianist / Passing Through. Trilogy* / Jennifer Johnson, oboist; Judith Farmer, bassoonist; *Robert Thies, pianist / String Theory / New Hollywood String Quartet / Albany 1624 or available for free streaming on YouTube beginning HERE
Gernot Wolfgang is a classical composer who often combines those forms with jazz in a delightful and personal manner. I love his music and think you will, too.
WOLPE: The Angel. Songs of the Jewish Pioneers: I. Ra’inu; II. Saleinu; III. Tel Aviv; IV. Holem Tza’adi / Rebecca Jo Loeb, mezzo-soprano; Ursula Oppens, pianist / Lazy Andy Ant / Patrick Mason, baritone (Narrator); Zac Garcia, baritone (Andy); Wendy Buzby, mezzo-soprano (The Judge); Mathew Whitmore, bass (Anteater); Quattro Mani (Alice Rynak & Susan Grace) / O Captain, My Captain! To a Theater New / Matt Boehler, bass-baritone; Ursula Oppens, pianist / Suite for Martha Krueger: I. Women; II. Remembrance; III. The Tides of Man / Quattro Mani / Bridge 9308 or available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking titles above
WOLPE: String Quartet / Momenta Quartet / available for free streaming on YouTube
WOLPE: Duo for 2 Violins. Piece in 2 Parts for Violin Alone. Second Piece for Violin Alone. 2 Studies for 2 Violin & Piano. Sonata for Violin & Piano. Second Sonata for Violin & Piano / Movses Pogossian, *Varty Manouelian, violinists; Susan Grace, pianist / Bridge 9452 or available for free streaming in small bits on YouTube
Stefan Wolpe wrote in two styles, one somewhat accessible to the average listener (as in Lazy Andy Ant and the Whitman songs) and the other rather astringent harmonically, but at his best he was very interesting. The works listed above are my favorites of his output.