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 Search Beat > Arts > Music > Styles > Classical Music > Featured Composer > Richard Wagner


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biography
Richard Wagner's music seeks to offer a transcendent experience
by Thomas May

According to legend, Richard Wagner (1813-1883) personally torched Dresden's old opera house--where he himself was employed as conductor--as part of his role in the city's political uprisings of 1849. In reality that wasn't the case (although he likely did obtain a supply of grenades for the insurrectionists), but there is a kind of poetic truth to the image. For while the composer's youthful dreams of a socialist utopia soon withered away with the failure of the revolution, he still managed to shake the artistic conventions of his time to their foundation. [read more...]

recommended recordings
Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen / Solti, Vienna Philharmonic
Composer: Richard Wagner
Conductor: Sir Georg Solti
Performer: Kurt Böhme, Hans Hotter, et al.
Ensemble: Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Vienna State Opera Chorus
Uni/London Classics - #455555 / October 14, 1997

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Modern storage media (CD/DVD) offer both high fidelity and great reliability in the playback of music. Yet only a bit more than a generation ago, the possibilities inherent in the long-playing record inspired John Culshaw, a young producer for Decca, to attempt the most ambitious recording project ever contemplated up to that time--a complete studio recording of the Ring. Though other Rings were issued after this landmark enterprise, none have equaled the Decca Ring in popularity. There are...Read more


  Wagner: Lohengrin / Solti, Domingo, Norman, Fischer-Dieskau

Composer: Richard Wagner
Conductor: Sir Georg Solti
Performer: Placido Domingo, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, et al.
Ensemble: Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Vienna State Opera Chorus Konzertvereinigung
Uni/London Classics - #21053 / January 1, 1987

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Sir George Solti's renditions of Wagner's operas often defined the standard interpretation practice in the post-World War II musical world, and he is at his best in this late 1980s digitally mastered recording partnered with his long-time collaborators, the Vienna Philharmonic--perhaps the most emotionally satisfying orchestra in the world for these challenging scores. Domingo, in the title role, shows himself as a true Heldentenor (i.e. a baritone with high notes), and his earlier weakness in German diction is not apparent. Norman's Elsa is musically perfect though at times a bit chilly and distant. The mature compassion of the role of Henry the Fowler is admirably captured by Sotin. The chorus work is first rate, and the excellent cast is rounded out by Randova and the vigorous Nimsgern as the husband/wife villains. --Christian C. Rix

Wagner: Tristan und Isolde / Furtwängler, Flagstad, et al

Composer: Richard Wagner
Conductor: Wilhelm Furtwängler
Performer: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Kirsten Flagstad, et al.
Ensemble: Philharmonia Orchestra
Emd/Emi Classics - #56254 / September 16, 1997

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It's not surprising that this sublime performance of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde has remained on the market for so long: Wilhelm Furtwängler's reading of the tale with Ludwig Suthaus, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, and Kirsten Flagstad is probably definitive. The conductor is peerless at achieving a strong sense of direction throughout the epic length. Carlos Kleiber's controversial version with the Dresden State Orchestra might boast orchestral fireworks (abetted by modern recording...Read more


Great Recordings Of The Century - Wagner: Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg / Karajan, Adam, Donath, Kollo, et al
Composer: Richard Wagner
Conductor: Herbert von Karajan
Performer: Theo Adam, Helen Donath, et al.
Ensemble: Staatskapelle Dresden
Emd/Emi Classics - #67148 / September 21, 1999

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Despite his disdain for some of the sillier aspects of grand opera, H.L. Mencken once said that Die Meistersinger was the greatest single work of art in Western civilization--and, to many, his hyperbole is forgivable when one contemplates the well-crafted structure of this most human of Wagner's music dramas. Of all recordings of his sole comedy, this one under the baton of Karajan in his prime has perhaps the best-balanced cast. The clear, youthful tones of Donath in the role of Eva must be...Read more


Wagner: Parsifal / Barenboim, Berliner Philharmoniker
Composer: Richard Wagner
Conductor: Daniel Barenboim
Performer: Daniela Bechly, Sally Burgess, et al.
Ensemble: Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Berlin State Opera Chorus
Wea/Atlantic/Teldec - #74448 / October 8, 1991

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It's a commonplace that Daniel Barenboim has done some of his best directing in Berlin, not Chicago, as this recording of Parsifal with the Berlin Phliharmonic attests. Wagner's score is fiendishly difficult--it's perhaps the composer's most delicate music--and Barenboim's decidedly intellectual temperament is complementary. The soloists (José van Dam, Siegfried Jerusalem, John Tomlinson, and Waltraud Meier) are superb. For me, Meier's startling, toneless gasp at the beginning of the...Read more


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