Sunday, 23 November 2014

Max Bruch Die Loreley - non-Wagnerian Wagner ?



Live from Prinzregententheater, Munich, Max Bruch's opera Die Loreley (op 16, 1863) on BR Klassik. The opera is rarely heard in full, and there's no complete recording, so this performance is quite a significant event.  BR Klassik pulls out all the stops. The Münchner Rundfunkorchester (conducted by Stefan Blunier) joins with the Prague Philharmonic Choir  (the opera was popular once in 19th century Prague).  A very good cast: Michaela Kaune, Magdalena Hinterdobler, Danae Kontora,Thomas Mohr, Benedikt Eder, Jan Hendrik Rootering and Sebastian Campione. The performance has been supported with talks, podcasts etc. As to be expected, the opera, with a libretto by Emmanuel Geibel, is in the Romantic style, but is surprisingly un-Wagnerian, harking back perhaps to earlier German music theatre. Certainly the choruses suggest Wagner, but the connections to Weber and Marschner are also valid. Critics at the time used Bruch as a stick with which to attack "the anti musical system" of Wagner, "There are.......no shrill dissonaces, no torture of the ears, no ugliness...,, no motivic references which trumpet 'I am the King'...no eccentric couplings of heterogenous instruments such as piccolo and timpani and similar trivial hocus-pocus...Let this beautiful and pure German work make its own way forward ! Our great theatres will not regret taking on this patriotic work of art" (quoted by Christopher Fifield in "Max Bruch: His life and works"

Bruch was in his 20's when the piece was written, so one shouldn't expect miracles. In 1863, Clara Schumann was impressed by the youth of the composer, though less so by the dramatic thrust of the opera. "The text, by the way, " she told a friend, "is awful". Bruch made several revisions. In 1887 in Leipzig, the young Gustav Mahler prepared the score for performance. In 1916, Hans Pfitzner revived it in Strassburg but it's never become entrenched in the repertoire. Nonetheless, on its own terms, it's hugely enjoyable, though I should add that I'm predisposed towards pre-Wagner German music theatre. To some the strophic folk songs might be a bit quaint.  But there are many good moments, not only for the main soprano but also for the main tenor and bass. The Final Act is impressively heroic. This performance is probably the best we'll get. Hopefully,  this will be rebroadcast and issued on CD. 

I love the photo at the top because it's surreal. It's an early postcard depicting a tour boat sailing down the Rhine, past the famous cliff where the Loreley is supposed to lie, luring sailors to their deaths. No doubt the tourists are thrilled, quaffing beer, wine and sausages. oblivious to danger. All this massive Loreley has to do is bend her arm down and scoop them up!

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