Lohengrin

Semyon Bychkov
WDR Rundfunkchor Köln
NDR Chor, Prager Kammerchor
WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln
Date/Location
28 May 2008
Philharmonie Köln
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
Cast
Heinrich der VoglerAlfred Muff
LohengrinJohan Botha
Elsa von BrabantMarion Ammann
Friedrich von TelramudFalk Struckmann
OrtrudPetra Lang
Der Heerrufer des KönigsEike Wilm Schulte
Vier brabantische Edle?
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Gallery
Reviews
Financial Times

In recent seasons it has become increasingly obvious that something special is happening in Cologne. Not at the Cologne Opera, whose visit to Edinburgh last summer did not impress, nor at the Gürzenich Orchestra, the city’s long-established concert ensemble, but at the West German Radio Symphony Orchestra, which Semyon Bychkov has, in his 10 years as principal conductor, honed into an ensemble of character. That much was clear from this concert performance of Wagner’s “romantic opera”: the strings were homogeneous, the woodwinds characterful, the brass beautifully tuned. At 55, Bychkov has reached an age when he can reinvest all the experience he has picked up in a career that has taken him from his native Russia to a succession of full-time posts in the US, France, Italy and Germany.

But not the UK – not yet, anyway. Whether that will change is anyone’s guess – his Cologne tenure ends in 2010 – but his Lohengrin will be worth savouring afresh when he conducts Covent Garden’s time-honoured Moshinsky staging next April, with a cast almost identical to Cologne. A very good one, too, even if Anne Schwanewilms had to pull out at the last minute. Marion Ammann, her replacement as Elsa, was a worthwhile find, her fey otherworldliness and sweet lustre creating an aura of fragile innocence that suits the part. She rose to the occasion. And the rest? This was a better cast than you get these days at Bayreuth: a swan-knight from Johan Botha that made you realise what a subtle, musical tenor he is; an intelligently “acted” and heroically declaimed Telramund from Falk Struckmann; a definitive Herold from Eike Wilm Schulte; an Ortrud from Petra Lang, gloriously vocalised, that lay somewhere between Desperate Housewives and Cruella De Vil.

Mesmerising! But they all sang in character – and how instructive it was to be reminded of how crisply the best German singers articulate their native tongue.

Add the combined forces of choirs from Cologne, Hamburg and Prague (a sumptuous blend), the spatial placing of heraldic trumpets, and Bychkov’s energy and far-sightedness, all turning the tableaux at the end of each act into the seamless apotheosis of everything that had come before, and you had a performance that struck to the heart of Wagner’s music. For the costume drama, we’ll have to wait another 10 months or so in London. And by that time this Cologne performance should be available on CD.

Andrew Clark| May 31, 2008

Opera

There are times when a concert performance of an opera can fulfil a composer’s intentions more comprehensively and faithfully than a stage performance. This was emphatically the case with this marvellous account of Lohengrin in cologne’s splendid concert hall, home of the WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln, which Semyon Bychkov, who conducted on this occasion (May 28), has made one of the finest orchestras in Europe. The brass were disposed around the hall, high and low,, and the chorus – comprising singers from Prague, Cologne and Hamburg – made a thrilling sound as well as providing such poetic moments as the offstage beginning of the Wedding March.

Thanks to Bychkov’s penetrating interpretation, the opera emerged in the full blaze of Romanticism, and one marvelled anew at the young Wagner’s confident control of his material and the kaleidoscopic colouts of his orchestration. The great interlude in Act 2, for example, after the Elsa-Ortrud confrontation, was plated with intense fercout and conducted with the most acute ear for detail.

Johan Botha sang Lohengrin like a man possessed. His gradations of tone-colour his effortlessly controlled soft singing and his heroic outbursts of ecstasy in ‘In fernem Land’ and the rapture of ‘Mein lieber Schwan’ held the audience enthralled. His Elsa was to have been Anne Schwanewilms, but she was stricken by a throat infection and her place was taken by Marion Ammann from Leipzig. This relatively unknown soprano won every heart with her pure, lyrical tone and touching personification of the role. Not a note was false or out of place, and her duet with Lohengrin was a highlight even among so many others.

Petra Lang’s Ortrud was a powerful study of evil, lustrously sung and well matched with Falk Struckmann’s equally impressive and vividly characterized Telramund, a larger-than-life performance that transformed the concert platform into a stage. Alfred Muff was a noble King Henry, and Eike Wilm Schulte made us realize that the King’s Herald is no secondary role when a baritone of his experience takes it on. It is good to know that this exciting and in many ways revelatory performance was the forerunner of a recording and that Bychkov will conduct Lohengrin at Covent Garden next year with largely the same cast. Start queuing now.

Michael Kennedy | September 2008

Kölner Rundschau

Musik führt Regie

Semyon Bychkov inszenierte Wagners „Lohengrin“ in der Kölner Philharmonie – und überzeugte mit einer intensiven und dichten Version. Deutlich war die Motivation der Musiker zu spüren.

Seit seiner eindrucksvollen Uraufführung 1850 in Weimar hat Richard Wagners „Lohengrin“ einigen Staub psychologischer und historischer Natur aufgewirbelt. Der Stoff rankt sich um Wolfgang von Eschenbachs Versepos „Parzival“ und die Geschichte des sagenumwobenen Schwanenritters, eine Geschichte um Treue, die keiner Frage bedarf und Territorialansprüche im 10. Jahrhundert.

Der WDR hat sich nun, noch bevor die Wagnerianer nach Bayreuth pilgern, zu einer konzertanten Aufführung entschlossen, in der Semyon Bychkov die monumentale Orchester- und Chorbesetzung mit exquisiten Solisten in der gut besuchten Philharmonie zusammenführte. Wagner konzertant auf die Bühne zu bringen, bedeutet auch, den lästigen Diskussionen über Wagner-Inszenierungen den Boden zu entziehen.

Das Resultat war eine intensive und dichte Version, in der man das Bühnenbild nicht eine Sekunde lang vermisste. Diese mehr als vier Stunden Oper wurden durch die dramatisch wohl dosierte Interpretation problemlos getragen. Musikalisch lenkte Bychkov das riesige Ensemble als sehr aufmerksamer Regisseur für dynamische Details und zauberte aus dem Eröffnungsakkord tatsächlich die gewünschten zarten Flageolettklänge hervor, welche laut Wagner die verklärende Wirkung der „wunderwirkenden Darniederkunft des Grals“ heraufbeschwören.

Man spürte die Motivation der Musiker. Dieser Detailliebe, die den dynamischen Übergängen Raum gab, Kontraste schuf und Transparenz garantierte, blieb die Interpretation bis zum Schluss treu. Neben opulenten Finali waren im Verlauf feinste Piani zu vernehmen. Welche Wagner-Interpretation kann das von sich behaupten? In den Logen oberhalb des Podiums kamen die „Königsbläser“ exponiert zur Geltung. Präzise walteten nicht zuletzt die in den oberen und unteren Foyers platzierten Fernorchester. Der NDR Chor wirkte vereint mit dem WDR Rundfunkchor Köln und dem Prager Kammerchor (Gesamteinstudierung: Matthias Brauer). Die Motivation des WDR Sinfonieorchesters Köln und der Solisten war geradezu fühlbar: allen voran Johan Botha, der Lohengrin eine große Bandbreite an Nuancen schenkte.

Dem Gegenspieler Graf Telramund lieh Falk Struckmann seinen warmen, kraftvollen Bariton und nicht zu vergessen seine mimische Intensität. Die großartige Petra Lange war als bösartige Ortrud zu hören. Eike Wilm Schulte überzeugte vollkommen als Heerführer. Eindrucksvoll hat der kurzfristig eingesprungene Alfred Muff die Partie des König Heinrich bewältigt, während – last but not least – Marion Ammann für die indisponierte Anne Schwanewilms die Elsa von Brabant sang.

Die Aufzeichnung des Konzertes sendet WDR 3 am 1. Juni ab 20.05 Uhr in Stereo und Surround-Sound.

FELICITAS ZINK | 29.05.2008

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