Sweden Wagner Concert – ‘Zu neuen Taten’: Elisabet Strid (soprano), Anna Larsson (contralto), Lars Cleveman (tenor), Johan Ullén (piano). Vattnäs Concert Barn, Vattnäs, Sweden, 16.7.2022. (GF)
Wagner – Overture, Rienzi; ‘Im Treibhaus’, ‘Schmerzen’, ‘Träume’ (Wesendonck Lieder); Die Walküre, Act I Scene 3; Götterdämmerung, ‘Zu neuen Taten’; Parsifal, Act I Transformation music, Act II ‘Ich sah das Kind’; Siegfried, Act I Scene 3, ‘Nothung! Nothung! Neidliches Schwert!’
A Wagner concert with only piano accompaniment – a half-measure arrangement? No!, not if the pianist is Johan Ullén. He can easily stand in for a full-size symphony orchestra, full measure, and opened the proceedings with his own transcription of the overture to Rienzi, one of the most grandiose creations of the young Wagner. The piano version was originally created for the 50th anniversary of the Swedish Wagner Society two years ago. It is a magnificent tour de force for the pianist, who oscillates between the softest pianissimo and the most thunderous fortissimo. At times one felt sorry for the poor instrument, but it survived the strains with flying colours, and having satisfactorily performed their duties, both pianist and concert grand were greeted with resounding ovations.
After these eruptions the audience, as well as the performers, settled down to Wagner at his most intimate: three of the five Wesendonck Lieder. They were originally written with piano accompaniment, and it was only after Wagner’s death that Felix Mottl arranged them for orchestra. Anna Larsson had chosen the last three in the published order: Im Treibhaus, Schmerzen and Träume, two of which were studies for Tristan und Isolde. There was absolute silence while she sang, inwardly, softly.
The rest of the first part of the concert was devoted to the third scene in the first act of Die Walküre, starting with Siegmund’s ‘Ein Schwert verhieβ mir der Vater’ and continuing to the end of act, which is an almost half-hour-long love duet between the Wälsung twins. Siegmund was sung by Lars Cleveman, who also was the compere of the evening, and Sieglinde by Elisabet Strid. This is among the most ecstatic love scenes in all opera, and emotions surged heavily. Both singers were in top form and literally oozing energy and commitment. Cleveman, who just turned 64, is still in formidable condition, and his cries of ‘Wälse! Wälse! Wo ist dein Schwert?’ were ear-shattering. Elisabet Strid glowed gloriously in her response to Siegmund’s Spring Song, ‘Du bist der Lenz, nach dem ich verlangte in frostigen Winters Frist’, and when the two lovers embraced at the end of the act, the audience shared their ecstasy.
One would have thought that Cleveman and Strid would have been exhausted after the love duet, but they returned after the interval fresh as paint with another duet. During the break the drama had progressed to the beginning of Götterdämmerung, Strid donning Brünnhilde’s mantle and Cleveman now posing as his son Siegfried. Both singers were in glorious voice in ‘Zu neuen Taten’, which is only half the length of the previous duet.
Then followed two excerpts from Wagner’s last work, Parsifal. Johan Ullén played his transcription of the transformation music from the first act, whereupon Anna Larsson, with assistance from Lars Cleveman, sang Kundry’s scene, which concludes with one of the best-known parts of this work, ‘Ich sah das Kind an seiner Mutter Brust’. This is truly emotional, deeply gripping music, and it could have been the finale of the concert, but Lars Cleveman, indefatigable, came back with a glorious ‘Nothung, Nothung’ from Siegfried.
While all four participants lined up before the audience for the final ovations, I contemplated the fact that here, in little Vattnäs, with a mere 350 inhabitants, I had just experienced a master pianist and three international Wagner singers. It seemed almost unbelievable!