Re-enacting Siegfried Idyll in Schloss Albrechtsberger

GermanyGermany Wagner: Stephanie Atanasov (mezzo-soprano), Players of the Dresdner Philharmonie, Schloss Albrechtsberger, Dresden, Germany, 22.5.2013. (MC)

Richard Wagner: Feierliches Stück nach dem Zuge zu Münster aus Lohengrin arranged for cello quartet by Friedrich Grützmache
Wesendonck Lieder, song cycle for mezzo-soprano arranged for chamber orchestra by Andreas N. Tarkmann
Fragment aus Parsifal’ arranged for cello quartet by Hermann Jacobowsky
Siegfried Idyll for chamber orchestra

Dresden Philharmoniker session Photo" Marco Borggreve
Dresden Philharmoniker session
Photo” Marco Borggreve

On the date of the bicentenary of Richard Wagner’s birthday this concert by players of the Dresdner Philharmonie at the Schloss Albrechtsberger included the Siegfried Idyll for chamber orchestra plus three other Wagner works arranged for chamber musicians. Two of the works were rarely heard arrangements which are in keeping with the custom of the Dresdner players as next season’s programme from the Schloss is a splendid mixture of established mainstream works together with a number of rarely heard works.

The evening started off with an enchanting pre-concert performance of the part of the Siegfried Idyll given by a number of the players positioned on a spiral staircase in a side corridor reflecting how Richard Wagner had the work played for his wife Cosima on Christmas Day morning in 1870. In fact, it was a photo shoot, but for those fortunate few who were able to see the enchanting performance it was rather spoilt by the photographer moving clumsily around looking for the best shot. Annoyingly the same photographer was in the chamber music room during the actual concert moving around distractingly.

The opening work of the evening Friedrich Grützmacher’s arrangement for cello quartet of the bridal procession from Lohengrin took around 7 minutes to perform. In the second half of the programme the cello quartet performed a section from Parsifal arranged by Hermann Jacobowsky; also lasting around seven minutes. Led by cello principal Matthias Bräutigam the playing of the cello quartet was impeccable throughout. With splendid unison the full rich timbre of the quartet projected well around the room and was a highlight of the concert.

I had been looking forward to hearing the wonderful Wesendonck Lieder a song cycle for female voice and piano given here in an arrangement for chamber orchestra by Andreas N. Tarkmann. The Wesendonck Lieder is the sumptuous fruit of Wagner’s short lived relationship with his muse Mathilde Wesendonck, the wife of a wealthy Swiss merchant who provided that text. The finest recordings of the Wesendonck Lieder, from great artists such as Martha Mödl, Astrid Varnay, Kirsten Flagstad and more recently Jonas Kaufmann can send a shiver down the spine but with Stephanie Atanasov it soon became clear that this was an unlikely prospect. After a hesitant start the Vienna born mezzo robed in a stunning black gown never seemed comfortable with this most challenging work. Displaying only moderate projection and inadequate diction it was no surprise that Atanasov was at times drowned out by the ten players in the louder passages. I commend Stephanie Atanasovfor her valiant attempt but on this evidence her voice does not have the facility for the Wesendonck Lieder.

The final work of the evening the Siegfried Idyll for chamber orchestra was performed by thirteen Dresdner players to most impressive effect revealing, if we didn’t know it already, what a remarkable score this is. I felt the leader Alexander Teichmann, who played with considerable assurance, had a few intonation problems and I always find it strange that the trumpet is used for mere seconds rather than minutes. A most difficult instrument to get right in chamber performance, the horns played by Friedrich Kettschau and Johannes Max, were exceptional as was the immaculate clarinet playing of Henry Philipp.

This is the second year that I have visited the Schloss Albrechtsberger a chamber music venue with splendid acoustic on the outskirt of the city. Although looking somewhat in need of a coat of paint on the outside, the chamber music hall itself and its adjoining rooms are quite charming and beautiful to look at. The doors do not open until 45 minutes prior to the concert so if you arrive early and it’s raining you are likely to get wet and in the reception area there appeared to be only seats for 3 to 4 people in total.

Michael Cookson