|Review by beardawgs November 24, 2011 (7 of 9 found this review helpful)
|Vernon Handley is by far my first choice of a conductor for British music. Since there aren’t many recordings of him conducting anything else but British music, I was looking forward to this one and I wasn’t disappointed. This disc is more of a tale of 2 parts: one being loud and epic (should I say truly Wagnerian) and the other pastoral and lyric (even more so Wagnerian too!) – the latter one really stunning.
Somehow predictably, at the very beginning, like with so many Wagner ‘highlights’ recordings we are assaulted (in a nice way though) with the ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ that pretty much highlights all the good points of this recording – good solid brass with plenty of space, detailed and spacious sound image, brooding sound of the full orchestra in excellent church acoustic and Handley’s tempi, perfectly measured, fee flowing, never rushed but never lagging either. One section seamlessly blends into another, his phrasing is beautiful and the orchestra sounds really lush and expressive, even at the loudest and most dramatic.
Talking of loud, there is a lot of loud music here, and there are no pauses between the tracks – raging Valkyrie jumps into Rienzi overture pretty much ‘attacca’ and Rinezi into the prelude for the 3rd act of Lohengrin just the same. That would really be my only complaint about how is this SACD put together, I felt tired and overwhelmed by the loudness attack. Prelude for the 3rd act of Lohengrin never works for me performed on its own anyway, it makes no sense (musically or dramatically) and especially not ending with the ‘evil’ motive instead of dissolving into the wedding march.
And then the absolute highlight of the disc – I was completely captivated by this rendition of Siegfried Idyll: Vernon Handley is here in his natural element, painting one amazing pastoral picture. Strings are beautifully blended with the woodwinds in the love music at the beginning, while the middle section vividly recalls slow movement from Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral’ symphony. After that the music takes a real flight into the ‘Forest murmurs’ section, this Siegfried being truly young and feisty. Handley treats last third of the idyll as if it is a piece by Delius - pastoral to the fore, perfectly measured tempo creating stillness, last pages mesmerizingly serene and calm, pure beauty. For me, this performance of the ‘Siegfried Idyll’ is worth the price of the whole disc.
“Flying Dutchman” overture that follows shares the qualities of other items here, while “Tannhauser” overture that closes this disc is yet another reminder how Handley can perfectly strike the balance between dramatic and lyrical. One last blast from the brass at the very end is a reminder of a happy marriage on this disc of good acoustics and perfect orchestral blend, leaving me wishing that producers swapped first 3 items with the overture for ‘Lohengrin’ and Good Friday music from ‘Parsifal’ (even more pastoral Wagner then in the idyll).
Sound-wise I have just a slight reservation about the perspective in MC – I felt the whole image was slightly pulling to the back of the sound stage, making brass complement at times coming from the same place as the strings. I did play this disc very loud though, and it can be a tad overwhelming. But the orchestra as a whole sounds rich and lush with a nice and solid lower end.
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