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Wagner, Volume 2.

Lorin Maazel, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. RCA 74321-68717-2.

As I said about Maazel's first volume of Wagner music with the Berlin Philharmonic, there is definitely life after Karajan. The BPO continues to sound more mellifluous, more imposing, more majestic, than any orchestra in the world, made to appear all the more so given RCA's ultra-smooth, ultra-velvety sonics. With Maazel's unusually broad view of tempos and knack for grandly emphasizing a point, the result is Wagner on an even loftier level than usual.

Oddly, given their prominence, the two opening pieces I thought were the weakest interpretively. The Rienzi Overture is slow to the point of plodding, and the Lohengrin Act III Prelude never really catches fire. But then Maazel comes into his own with the Faust Overture, which combines cool deliberation with fiery execution. Next, his Die Meistersinger Prelude comes off with appropriate ebullience and aplomb, followed by the centerpiece of the album, the Siegfried Idyll, delicate and pensive, the famous birthday gift from Wagner to his wife, Cosima. The program concludes with Maazel's best performance of the lot, "Siegfried's Rhine Journey" from Gotterdammerung. It allows the conductor to freely exhibit his baronial, dramatic flair while maintaining a fair degree of control.

Maazel is a fine conductor, growing into the role of elder statesman gracefully but losing some of the spark that once marked his conducting. I find Haitink, on a similarly comprised, mid-priced Philips recording with the Concertgebouw, more to my liking for his greater spontaneity. Otto Klemperer on a pair of mid-priced EMI issues is equally noble yet displays more individualism; his EMI engineers provide a shade more sonic transparency, too. Still, fans of Maazel will not be disappointed, and it's hard to fault the Berlin players in anything they do.
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Author:Puccio, John
Publication:Sensible Sound
Article Type:Sound Recording Review
Date:Aug 1, 2001
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