Mark Elder
Koor van De Nationale Opera
Groot Omroepkoor
Koninklijk Concertgebouworkest
18/20 December 2015
Concertgebouw Amsterdam
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
Heinrich der VoglerFalk Struckmann
LohengrinKlaus Florian Vogt
Elsa von BrabantCamilla Nylund
Friedrich von TelramundJewgeni Nikitin
OrtrudKatarina Dalayman
Der Heerrufer des KönigsSamuel Youn
Vier brabantische EdleFrançois Soons
John van Halteren
Harry Teeuwen
Peter Arink
MusicWeb-International.com (I)

Wagner’s Romantic three act opera Lohengrin holds fond memories for me. One of my most memorable nights at the opera house was in June 2016 at Semperoper, Dresden for a sell-out, first night staging of Lohengrin that one might have thought was a new production such was the level of interest. The Dresden Lohengrin was in fact a revival of the acclaimed Christine Mielitz production with Piotr Beczala and Anna Netrebko excelling in the main roles; both making their Wagner debuts supported by Tomasz Konieczny as Telramund and the magnificent Evelyn Herlitzius as Ortrud. Fingers crossed the Dresden Lohengrin becomes available on DVD/Blu-ray soon.

Based on a romantic medieval legend of the Swan Knight who liberates a princess from pagan evil forces, the music drama Lohengrin is regarded by many as Wagner’s most engaging and immediately appealing opera. An affecting story of indisputable trust, doomed love, vengeance, compassion, deliverance and the supernatural, including, pagan black magic. Although still a most substantial work it is one of Wagner’s shortest in duration, containing numerous memorable melodies in its breathtaking score.

In this Lohengrin Sir Mark Elder is conducting the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra recorded at a pair of live performances (described as semi-staged) given over a weekend in December 2015 at the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam. Not long back from conducting a new David McVicar production of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at San Francisco Opera, Elder is in fact replacing Andris Nelsons who withdrew owing to a shoulder injury. A stalwart Wagnerian, Elder was the first British conductor to conduct a new production at Bayreuth with Wolfgang Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg in 1981. As music director of the Hallé, from 2009 Elder has been presiding over its continuing Bridgewater Hall, Manchester concert Ring cycle with only Siegfried left to perform and there was also a concert staging of Parsifal at the Royal Albert Hall, London.

Exceedingly well chosen, this experienced Wagnerian cast for Lohengrin at the Concertgebouw is one that brings significant rewards. Experienced Wagnerian Klaus Florian Vogt has sung at the Bayreuth Festival each year since 2007 including the part of Lohengrin for several seasons which has become a signature role for him. I first heard Vogt at Berlin in 2015; it was a successful concert performance of act two of Parsifal under Donald Runnicles. Here the German tenor excels in the title role of Lohengrin the mysterious knight of the Holy Grail, son of Parsifal. Demonstrating full measure of the vocal challenges Vogt sings confidently, conveying his crystal clear diction and maintaining throughout his appealing sweet high register. The tenor’s delivery feels practically effortless and in his renowned arias Nun sei bedankt, mein lieber Schwan and In fernem Land (Gralserzählung) although his tone has a slight monochrome quality he readily conveys the essential qualities of tenderness and sincerity as the love struck hero. Hardly less arresting is Camilla Nylund clearly relishing the role of Elsa the maiden in distress who is falsely blamed for murdering her brother. In 2014 I heard Camilla Nylund, who has appeared for several seasons at Bayreuth, sing so impressively in a challenging programme of Richard Strauss orchestral songs at a Gala concert at Dresden. Here the Finnish soprano shows her versatility taking full control of her large weighty voice. She brings the necessary amount of innocence, the weight of burden over her accusation and vestiges of doubt about the origins of Lohengrin to the role, singing with dramatic expression revealing her creamy, smooth tone. A highlight is her ravishingly tender rendition of Einsam in trüben Tagen as she relates her dream of being saved by a knight travelling in a boat pulled by swans and in the final section Hört, was dem Gottgesandten her dramatic voice exalts that Lohengrin can have both her hand in marriage and the crown.

The most formidable portrayal of Ortrud that I have seen on video is Leonie Rysanek’s performances at Wiener Staatsoper (1985) under Horst Stein and at the Metropolitan Opera (1986) conducted by James Levine. Stepping confidently up to the plate skilled Wagnerian Katarina Dalayman makes a convincingly malicious and suitably odious sorceress who is at the centre of the storyline. This is a well characterised performance from the Swedish dramatic soprano maintaining her weighty rounded tone and expressive intensity although there is some unsteadiness at times. Especially striking is her dramatically thrilling performance of Entweihte Götter (Ortrud’s curse). Evgeny Nikitin who controversially withdrew from the Bayreuth Festival in 2012 over a tattoo is a practised Wagnerian. The Russian bass-baritone sings the role of Friedrich von Telramund impressively with his rich, steady voice that does lose some weight as it narrows in the top register. Worthy of admiration too is Falk Struckmann taking the part of King Heinrich der Vogler who is in Brabant recruiting troops to fight the Hungarians. Mature sounding German bass Struckmann who debuted at Bayreuth back in 1993 is dramatically expressive conveying a suitably convincing regal quality able to render his high notes most effectively. It was Samuel Youn who replaced Evgeny Nikitin at Bayreuth in 2012 and here as king’s Herald the reliable South Korean bass-baritone does all that is asked of him.

Masterly is Elder’s conducting, demonstrating a clear vision of the overall structure and substance of the three act score. Suiting the proceedings remarkably well the steady unforced tempi adopted by Elder allowed the music ample time to breath. There is overriding unity to the playing of this magnificent orchestra together with an elevated proficiency of touch and detail that never comes at the expense of expression. Elder’s forces combine to produce a remarkable sense of dramatic tension and abundant grandeur in the climaxes with results that never feel overblown. Remarkably consistent throughout, the expressive strings at times produce a rarely achieved weeping quality and the unified brass sound remarkable too. Stunningly played with authority are the substantial orchestral passages including the trumpet fanfare to Heil König Heinrich! From their first note to their last the combined professional choruses of the Netherlands Radio Choir and Chorus of Dutch National Opera perform persuasively creating a remarkable sound that adds considerably to the drama.

Recorded live at Concertgebouw the sound quality of this own-label hybrid multichannel SACD is vividly clear although the orchestra in the forte passages is just a tad too forwardly placed over the solo singers for my taste. The audience applause at the conclusion of each act has been retained and included in the timings. Appreciation is owed to the label for providing the full German libretto with an English translation in the booklet. There is also an essay and a synopsis written by Marijke Schouten together with some performance photographs. All in all the recording is extremely well presented. Another valuable resource worth obtaining is the ENO Opera Guide to Lohengrin.

A number of Lohengrin recordings I have known for some time, although none ideal include Joseph Keilberth/1953/Bayreuth/Teldec, André Cluytens/1958/Bayreuth/ Melodram, Rudolf Kempe/1963-64/Vienna/EMI and Georg Solti/1985-86/Vienna/Decca and Daniel Barenboim/1996/Berlin/Teldec. On balance this satisfying live performance from Elder at Concertgebouw is the one I will reach for first.

Under Sir Mark Elder this exceptional and compelling live recording of Lohengrin from the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam is one to live with and treasure.

Michael Cookson

MusicWeb-International.com (II)

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra released a live Flying Dutchman in concert with Andris Nelsons in 2015 (review). Nelsons’ conducting was much the finest thing about that performance, and I’m told that he was lined up to conduct these live performances too, but had to pull out at short notice. I wonder, therefore, if they’re planning a Wagner series?

We should hope so because, even though there are shortfalls, this Lohengrin is very good. It helps that it is led by probably the foremost, and certainly the most recorded Swan Knight of our day in Klaus Florian Vogt. I first heard him in this role as part of Marek Janowski’s Wagner anniversary series (review), and he has grown into the role with greater experience. His voice remains bright and light, almost choir-boy-ish at times, but he has honed it to suit the role very well indeed. In fact, Vogt’s vocal tone seems to suit Wagner’s too-good-to-be-true heroes, like Lohengrin and Parsifal, really rather brilliantly. You certainly couldn’t imagine him as, say, Tannhäuser or Tristan, or even Verdi’s Alfredo or Manrico, but the clean radiance of the voice suits Lohengrin very well, and by now there are several performances of him to confirm his mastery of it, not least on DVD from Baden-Baden (review) or Bayreuth (review).

Most of the rest of the cast are very strong too. Camilla Nylund shades down her huge voice to make Elsa vulnerable and human, nowhere more effectively than in the Bridal Chamber Scene, even though I would have liked her address to the breezes to be a little more carefree. Falk Struckmann’s gravelly tone adds gravitas to the part of the king, though he sounds under pressure at key moments, such as the address to the soldiers in the second scene of Act Three. Samuel Youn’s Herald is clear and authoritative throughout. Evgeny Nikitin is a baleful Telramund, giving proper weight to the role, and even if he sound shouty at times then it’s good to hear the part sung as more than just a cipher for his wife.

It’s that wife that causes me the most misgivings, however. Katarina Dalayman was having a bad night when this was recorded, sounding squally and unfocused throughout. She struggles to keep the voice under control, unhappily dominating the ensemble that ends Act One, and she sounds dangerously shrill in her duet with Elsa. “Entweihte Götter” pushes her to (and perhaps even beyond) the limits of what she can do, and the results aren’t pleasant.

There is balm for the ears from the orchestra, however, and it is their contribution that is, perhaps, the best reason for picking up this recording. They sound fantastic throughout, challenging even the wonders of the Vienna Philharmonic under Abbado and Kempe (review). It is a real luxury to hear Wagner’s beautiful score played by a group like this, the prelude shimmering magisterially and the strings knowing just how much to assert themselves during “In Fernem Land.” Conversely, the brass sound electric during the Act Three Prelude, and the big ensemble at the end of Act Two can rarely have sounded better (helped by a special guest appearance from the Concertgebouw organ). They are directed magnificently by Sir Mark Elder, whose decades of Wagner experience come in very handy indeed. His command of the great arch of the Prelude is wonderfully controlled, and he paces the slow-burn moments, such as the Bridal Chamber Scene or the final third of Act Two, with an ear to knowing where he is going and how to get there. It is masterful and his interpretation is capable of holding its own next to any conductor’s. The contribution of the choruses is also super, sounding brilliant as bridesmaids and as warriors, and I loved the adrenaline rush of the big scene that ends Act One. Excellent recorded sound helps throughout.

Not a first choice then, but a very good one, and recommended for those who already know the work or who admire the artists and what to hear what they do in this repertoire, particularly if you’re a fan of the orchestra. The competitive price helps, too, as does the fact that the booklet includes the full libretto with English and French translation, even if the accompanying essay is rather thin.

Simon Thompson | May 2017


A miraculous Lohengrin at the Concertgebouw

There are nights where everything seems to fall into place. Last Friday’s Lohengrin at the Concertgebouw was one of those miraculous nights. Initially, it did not look too auspicious. About a week before the event, Andris Nelsons, who was scheduled to conduct the two performances planned over the week-end, cancelled on doctor’s orders, suffering from a injured shoulder; a bad omen as those performances had originally been programmed as a keenly-anticipated follow-up to his memorable and particularly tempestuous Der fliegende Holländer in 2013. Sir Mark Elder, jumping in to replace his Latvian colleague, proved an excellent replacement, leading the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, choirs and an inspired team of soloists into a gripping, highly-charged performance that public and aficionados of the Dutch capital will undoubtedly still remember in years to come.

The semi-staged performance, directed by Caecilia Thunissen, made use of the stage, loggias and balconies, with soloists and actors (including a mimed swan) entering and exiting the Great Hall from about every possible door. Within the limitations of this type of space, Lohengrin’s entrance following his swan, while all the Great Hall’s doors slammed open in unison to let a golden light flow in, was effective. All of the soloists also proved committed actors, except perhaps for the King Henry the Fawler of Falk Struckmann, the only one carrying his score with him, which however did not really distract from his regal posture and noble sound. As his herald, Samuel Youn displayed eloquence and a handsome timbre.

I remembered a more imposing and more threatening Telmarund from Yevgeny Nikitin, especially in the first act, at Dutch National Opera over a year ago. Here, his character sounded more subtle, more complex perhaps, as if doubtful almost from the start of the manipulative lies of his wife Ortrud. He is a seasoned actor and the scene between Telmarund and Ortrud, when she tries to revive her husband’s courage and shares her plans was from both part riveting. There was anyway no point trying to resist Katarina Dalayman’s formidable Ortrud. With her opulent voice and dark colours, the Swedish dramatic soprano portrayed a particularly powerful and venomous pagan witch, putting her, rightly, at the centre of the unravelling storyline.

Camilla Nylund gave an admirable performance as Elsa von Brabant, her focused and luminous lyric instrument soaring seemingly effortlessly above the orchestra. Elsa’s dream “Einsam in trüben Tagen” was superb, only the very top sounding slightly pressed. I found her extremely moving in the bridal chamber scene, when, filled with the doubt distilled by Ortrud, Elsa breaks her promise never to ask her saviour for his name. Klaus Florian Vogt proved again he was born to sing Lohengrin.The strange qualities of his voice which combines a light, lyric timbre with the sheer power to cut through Wagner’s orchestral music just fit the otherworldly Knight of the Swan perfectly. His interpretation and singing are rich with finesse. Lohengrin’s narration “In fernem Land” was mesmerizing.

Joining their forces into a magnificent sound, the choir of Dutch National Opera and the Dutch Radio Choir were superb. Notwithstanding the excellent performances of choir and soloists, the star of the show was the orchestra. There is always something special about hearing the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra play in their own home. The balance and clarity of the textures are so impressive. On Friday night, the brass particularly shone, so did the timpani, rich and precise, never overwhelming other sections. Every note in the violins was clearly audible. The Great Hall’s famous acoustics performed their magic in blending all into that warm, golden sound. And as rare privilege, at the end of Act II, when Elsa and her knight entered the cathedral to get married, the public even got to hear the sound of the monumental organ that has pride of place at the back of the hall’s stage.

Nicolas Nguyen | 20 Dezember 2015

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Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
320 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 482 MByte (MP3)
2368 kbit/s VBR, 96 kHz, 3.5 GByte (SACD flac)
A semi-staged production by Caecilia Thunnissen