Der fliegende Holländer

Otto Klemperer
BBC Chorus
New Philharmonia Orchestra London
19 March 1968
Royal Festival Hall London
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
DalandMartti Talvela
SentaAnja Silja
ErikJames King
MaryAnnelies Burmeister
Der Steuermann DalandsKenneth MacDonald
Der HolländerTheo Adam

Otto Klemperer’s 1968 recording of Wagner’s Flying Dutchman (on EMI) has long been considered a classic. Using the three-act version, Klemperer elicited performances from the New Philharmonia Orchestra, BBC Chorus, Theo Adam, Anja Silja, and Martti Talvela that are both doom- and tension-filled. During the period he was in the studio making the recording, he and the same forces gave a concert performance in London’s Royal Festival Hall, and this set–available, I believe, for the first time–is a record of that event.
And it’s magnificent: Running only a couple of minutes shorter than it did in the studio (and still at least 10 minutes longer than any competitor), this now becomes the Dutchman of choice. The sound is amazingly good for a live performance, so Klemperer’s huge point of view is never smudged. The huge melodic sweep is ever-present, but so are the rumblings and churnings that are so crucial to this work. Adam sings from the depth of his soul but without sacrificing Wagner’s still-somewhat-Italianate line. Much the same could be said for Silja’s breathtaking Senta, but her right-on nervousness adds something special as well. Talvela probably has never been heard to better advantage, making of Daland more than the usual brawny, briney galoot he can be. And this live show has a better Erik than EMI’s in James King, who sings with ardor and ringing tone. The way in which the singers know one another is the definition of true ensemble. This set is a knockout–and, by the way, it fits on 2 CDs rather than EMI’s three, so it’s a (relative) bargain as well!


Thanks to Testament, we now have the Royal Festival Hall performance, as broadcast by the BBC, to put alongside the Abbey Road recording (below – made by EMI at the same period) which might be justifiably deemed one of two or three great readings of the score on CD. The two main characters are taken by the same singers, Theo Adam and Anja Silja. Martti Talvela and Annelies Burmeister can also be heard on both sets. The main difference is in the tenor department. James King, rather than Ernst Kozub, would probably have sung Erik in the studio if Decca had been willing to release him, and although this is a notoriously unrewarding part – especially when it has to be acted as well as sung – King’s distinctive tonal combination of purity and weight was certainly a bonus in the Festival Hall, just as Kenneth MacDonald makes a fine Steersman. The most remarkable aspect of the performance nevertheless remains the empathy between Klemperer, Silja and Adam. Adam’s Act  1 monologue seizes the dramatic high ground but Silja raises the stakes still further with an electrifying account of Senta’s Ballad, and the long duet which ends Act 2 has rarely been as intense and eloquent as it is here.

Live performance always brings risks: there is a split brass note early in Act 1, and Talvela loses his way briefly a little later on. But Klemperer’s love of the music’s raw edges and robust rhythms is evident throughout. Even at the stately tempo he adopts, the Act 3 sailor’s dance is so strongly projected that the tension never sags for a moment, and Klemperer’s eccentric devotion to the three-act version of the score is far less damaging than it would be in a performance of lower voltage.

The recorded sound also comes up pretty well in this remastering. This extraordinarily ‘live’ reading of Wagner’s windswept score now has the edge, even over the admirable studio alternative.

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Hunt, LS, Testament, OOA
Technical Specifications
585 kbit/s VBR, 44.1 kHz, 621 MByte (flac)
BBC broadcast of a concert performance