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Matthias Goerne: "The Wagner Project"

CD Button Orchestral excerpts and bass-baritone scenes. Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Harding. Texts and translations. Harmonia Mundi 902250.51 (2)

Recordings Wagner Project lg 418
Critics Choice Button 1015 

CONDUCTOR Daniel Harding, in the Meistersinger Act III prelude that opens this Wagner compendium, makes his players take a brief pause between the foretaste of the “Wach’ auf” chorale and the reminiscence of the Act II “Eva aus dem paradies.” It gives the orchestral narrative a quality of human reasoning: we have entered Hans Sachs’s thought processes as he anticipates the day to come and revisits the previous night’s mêlée. The ensuing Fliedermonolog, although chronologically out of order, has the effect in this context of drawing us deeper into Sachs’s thinking, especially in the contemplative reading that Matthias Goerne gives it.

Close collaboration between conductor and singer typifies this two-disc set. If anything, Harding takes the lead: half of the set’s two hours are devoted to orchestra-only excerpts. The territory covered is extremely familiar, but the conductor and his Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra bring remarkable freshness to their exploration. Orchestral sonorities are leaner than in most Wagner performances—and wonderfully transparent. The diaphanous texture of the Liebestod lets us hear how its sound world anticipates the pure air of Parsifal’sAct III. When Wotan, in his Farewell, draws his daughter into a last embrace, the Stockholm players offer not the thumping impact you’d expect from, say, the Vienna Philharmonic but a lyrical effusion that is every bit as moving, made more expressive through Harding’s firm sense of the through-line binding the scene’s various movements.

As Wotan in the Hong Kong Philharmonic Ring operas released by Naxos, Goerne showed the promise of a major Wagnerian; his work here affirms it. He reprises two scenes from the Ring—“Abendlich strahlt,” from Rheingold,and the Farewell—and his interpretations have deepened in the interim. He brings a lieder singer’s exactitude to music that often sounds considerably blunter. Not a word is shouted; never does he offer anything approaching the “Bayreuth bark.” Goerne’s tone is dark and glowing, except in Wolfram’s hymn to the evening star. There, he mixes in elements of head voice, reminiscent of his teacher Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau; it allows him to proceed with an unruffled legato line and calm beauty. The famous tune has never sounded so radiant. The detail he brings to every moment of King Marke’s monologue makes us attend to it as an unfolding psychological progression. I have never heard its musical logic emerge so clearly: the passage has the character of Schubert lieder writ large.

The recording places the singer in a different acoustic space from the orchestra, much farther forward and more resonant. The engineering scheme leaves open the question of whether, projecting over a Wagnerian orchestra in an opera house, Goerne’s singing would retain the beauty and nuance of his work on these discs. Nonetheless, it’s a pleasure to encounter him here. Both he and Harding offer insights that no Wagner-lover will want to miss. —Fred Cohn 



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