The Wagner Journal

Restricted Vision: A fifty-CD bicentenary set fails to do justice to the Bayreuth legacy, says David Breckbill

Restricted Vision: A fifty-CD bicentenary set fails to do justice to the Bayreuth legacy, says David Breckbill

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Review of Wagner’s Vision: Bayreuth Heritage (Documents/The Intense Media, 50 CDs), all operas from Bayreuth ‘in representative complete original recordings’, plus twelve CDs of excerpts from selected commercial recordings (G&T, 1904; Columbia, 1927–8; Telefunken, 1936) and from live Bayreuth performances, 1931 [sic] to 1960; recordings include: Der fliegende Holländer, conducted Sawallisch, 1959; Tannhäuser, conducted Elmendorff, abridged, 1930; Tannhäuser, conducted Cluytens, 1955; Lohengrin, conducted Matačić, 1959; Das Rheingold, conducted Krauss, 1953; Die Walküre, conducted Knappertsbusch, 1958; Siegfried, conducted Keilberth, 1953; Götterdämmerung, conducted Kempe, 1960; Tristan und Isolde, conducted Karajan, 1952; Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, conducted Abendroth, 1943; Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, conducted Karajan, 1951; Parsifal, conducted Knappertsbusch, 1951.

July 2013, Volume 7, Number 2, 72–6.

Questions about the trustworthiness of this release arise as soon as one notes its title: surely Wagner’s Vision, whatever that may be, has more to do with his perpetually challenging works than with the Bayreuth Festival or even the performances created there. If one makes it past this conceptual stumbling block, others await. A large-scale release that samples and encapsulates aural traces of performances given at the Bayreuth Festival is surely appropriate in this bicentenary year, but as the listing of contents shows, the unnamed compilers have made the decision to halt the survey at 1960 – late enough to take advantage of a wealth of material from the 1950s but conveniently early enough to exclude recordings that are not yet legally in the public domain, thereby omitting such major Bayreuth performers as – to think only of conductors – Karl Böhm, Pierre Boulez, Horst Stein, Carlos Kleiber, James Levine, Daniel Barenboim, Peter Schneider, Giuseppe Sinopoli, Christian Thielemann and many others. This fact immediately casts doubt on the amount of care and intentionality put into this release, and countless details surrounding the presentation of this material reward one’s cynicism.

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