Saturday, March 14, 2015

Szell conducts Wagner – Great Orchestral Music from “The Ring”

   In the history of culture some artists were always confined to one kind of activity. Although most composers were many-sided, there were always musicians who limited their activity to narrow stream of formal or functional output. They were producing just the kind of work as an answer to social order. In 19th century with the division of labor came specialization and competitiveness. Composers started to follow their most successful works. From formal and social point of view Richard Wagner was such an artist. Miscellaneous works he composed in first years of his life did not bring him any success, so he had specialized in opera and musical drama. This was consistent with his idea of dramatic aspect of music theatre. He became famous as the great reformer in the field of opera.
   Opera in 19th century was extremely popular genre. One of effects of this success was many orchestral fragments of operas were included in concert repertoire as symphonic pieces. Especially popular were fragments of Richard Wagner’s works. Powerful orchestrations and elements of illustrative means are characteristic style features of this composer. Preludes and overtures from his early operas and symphonic images in later composed dramas, all fragments of Wagner’s instrumental music on the span next century became popular concert pieces. It was also the element of orchestra sound display. One of Wagnerian features was characteristic form basing on crescendos which he used in overtures and in many scenes. One of best choices showing Wagner’s music was Great Orchestral Music from “The Ring” published in 1982 in CBS Great Performances series (MY 36715).

Szell – Great Orchestral Music from “The Ring” (1982)

   Although this album was reissue of previously published recordings, this edition became very popular in eighties. It shows most famous excerpts of four dramas cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen shortly mentioned as “The Ring”. Opening fragment is Entrance Of The Gods Into Valhalla from Das Rheingold, followed by Ride Of The Valkyries and Magic Fire Music from Die Walküre. The closing piece of the first side is image of virgin wood painted with orchestral sound in Forest Murmurs from Siegfried. These excerpts show how powerful can be music creating imaginary. The program of this album is concluded with two fragments From Götterdämmerung. In Dawn And Siegfried's Rhine Journey orchestra exposes once again a crescendo with characteristic Wagner’s impetus and whole story is closed with Siegfried's Funeral Music And Final Scene from fourth part of tetralogy. Strong, powerful orchestral sound meets subtle, fine and precise fragments. Cleveland Orchestra conducted by George Szell sounds perfect and Wagner’s music let it show its sound possibilities.
   The Great Orchestral Music from “The Ring” choice has its own history. It was recorded at Cleveland Severance Hall in 1968 and published for the first time as Columbia Masterworks’ album Great Orchestra Highlights From “The Ring Of The Nibelungs” (MS 7291). It was highly appreciated and included in various medley editions of Wagner’s Greatest Hits. In 1973 it was included as third record of Columbia album Wagner Orchestral Music by George Szell an Cleveland Orchestra (D3M 32317) and in 1990 complete program of “Ring” excerpts was included in CBS compact disk compilation Wagner Without Words (MDK 46286) with Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde and Prelude to 1st Act of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. These recordings are the perfect example of great symphonic renditions of Wagener’s music, republished so many times, these tracks became standard way of understanding the orchestral imagination by Richard Wagner. Four stars is clear bargain for these still living performances.

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