wesendonck_amazonThis live CD of Wagner orchestral excerpts and the Wesendonck Lieder is noteworthy for the conducting of Franz Welser-Most and the truly remarkable playing of The Cleveland Orchestra. I have seldom heard an ensemble sound so beautiful on CD. The strings shimmer like satin, the reeds are clean and clear, the brass warm and burnished with none of the bombastic over-blowing that seems to be so popular these days. 

For the most part Maestro Welser-Most’s conducting is assured and revealing. The only misfire is a rather perfunctory reading of the “Lohengrin” Act 3 Prelude. Otherwise he shapes these well-known excerpts with a loving attention to detail that never gets in the way of their inherent lyricism and theatricality. I wish I could say the same for Measha Brueggergosman!

Ms. Brueggergosman has forged quite a career in concert and recital while also landing what appears to be an exclusive recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon. Based on this CD, I don’t see what all the fuss is about. Her voice is pretty enough, in an ordinary kind of way, but for most of this CD she sings at a rather tremulous sounding mezzo-piano that I can’t believe was audible past the third row.

It is only during the rare moments when she sings loud enough to be heard that the voice takes on a darker more interesting color and what sounds like a nice amount of heft and ring. I suspect she has aiming for intimate and meaningful but only got as far as fussy and under sung. Even here Maestro Welser-Most proves himself an excellent technician and supportive colleague, holding down the orchestra to a whisper while still giving shape, direction and support to Ms. Brueggergosman’s uninspired singing.

So here is a short list of the many superior recordings of the Wesendonck Lieder available: Crespin’s luminous account on EMI with Pretre conducting; a surprisingly warm reading on Decca by Marilyn Horne with the Royal Philharmonic and Henry Lewis; Christa Ludwig with Klemperer and the Philharmonia, also on EMI; Norman on Philips with Colin Davis and the London Symphony; Flagstad with Knappertsbusch and the Vienna Philharmonic on Decca; on DG, Varnay with Leopold Ludwig and the Bavarian Radio orchestra, Nilsson also with Colin Davis and the London Symphony on Philips; Farrell with Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic on Sony; and an unexpectedly beautiful recording on Philips with Agnes Baltsa and the London Symphony, Jeffrey Tate conducting.

To sum it all up, is the CD worth buying for just the orchestral excerpts? Probably not.