A Sampling of Noteworthy Wagner Recordings for 2013

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If it’s a major composer anniversary year, that must mean a batch of new commemorative recordings. Whatever troubles currently plague the record industry, both major labels and independents have issued a respectable assortment of new releases for the Wagner bicentenary. Here are a half-dozen to get you started.

1953 Bayreuth Ring Cycle
Clemens Krauss, conductor

Available at Arkivmusic.com

Sixty years on, this Ring Cycle, recorded at the Bayreuth Festival and conducted by Clemens Krauss, remains one of the most respected versions around. The well-rounded cast includes many Golden Age voices: Hans Hotter in his prime as Wotan, Wolfgang Windgassen as Siegfried, Astrid Varnay as Brunnhilde, Regina Resnik as Sieglinde, Ramon Vinay as Siegmund, Josef Greindl as Fafner, Hunding and Hagen. While long available on a budget label, the cycle was recently remastered from the original German Radio Master Tapes, offering better-quality sound. The set includes a full libretto and English translation for each opera.


The Other Wagner
Songs, overtures, choral works, piano music and orchestral music
EMI Classics

Available at Arkivmusic.com

Yes, there is Wagner beyond opera. The Other Wagner presents many of the composer’s orchestral works, overtures, marches, songs, choral works and some piano music. Many of these occupy a similar sound world; Der Tag Erscherint, for instance, is a choral piece Wagner composed as his first duty when appointed Kapellmeister in 1843 in Saxony. The five romantic songs composed for Mathilde Wesendock evoke the aesthetic of Tannhauser. There’s also an effective piano transcription of the Siegfried Idyll by Artur Rubinstein, among other novelties.


Music from Gotterdammerung and Meistersinger; Siegfried Idyll
Budapest Festival Orchestra; Ivan Fischer, conductor
Channel Classics

Available at Arkivmusic.com

The Budapest Symphony Orchestra under Iván Fischer has emerged as a front-rank ensemble, as recent New York appearances have largely demonstrated. Here the orchestra does its part for the bicentenary with a collection of popular passages from Götterdämmerung and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, coupled with the Siegfried Idyll. Soprano Petra Lang brings her powerhouse vocals to the proceedings and there’s surround-sound fidelity for those with the right stereo equipment.


Great Wagner Singers
Deutsche Grammophon

Available at Arkivmusic.com

This six-CD set presents a wide assortment of Golden-Age voices in recordings made over a half-century (the 1920s to the 1970s) at the Bayreuth Festival. Along with select passages from all of Wagner’s major operas, there’s the entire Act I of Die Walküre (with Maria Müller, Wolfgang Windgassen and Josef Greindl under Ferdinand Leitner, in 1951). Stars include Hans Hotter, Kirsten Flagstad, Sieglinde Wagner, Dame Gwyneth Jones and Gundula Janowitz.


Pier Paolo Vincenzi, piano
Wagner: Complete Piano Music (April 2013)

Available at Arkivmusic.com 

Italian pianist Pier Paolo Vincenzi presents Wagner the Piano Man. The composer’s piano works in fact played a key role in the development of his style and musical thought, starting with the sonata in B-flat Major, which grows out of a Beethovenian mold. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the Grosse Sonate – an aborted sketch for a symphony that is as mature and complex as any Tchaikovsky. Vincenzi makes a convincing case for these and other works including the 'Schluss zum Vorspiel' from Tristan und Isolde. Fellow pianist Federica Ferrati joins him in the Polonaise for 4 hands in D.


Wagner at the Met - Legendary Performances from the Metropolitan Opera
Sony Classical

Available at Arkivmusic.com

All of Wagner’s major operas are included in this 25-CD Met box with the (curious) exception of Parsifal. The set spans several decades (1936-1954) and sound quality ranges from primitive to quite impressive (all are taken from Met radio broadcasts). There’s Hans Hotter in the title role of The Flying Dutchmen, as well as Kirsten Flagstad, Lauritz Melchior, Karin Branzell, Emanuel List and many others. The conducting bench is equally deep, with such names as Artur Bodanzky, George Szell, Erich Leinsdorf and Fritz Reiner.