Latvian mezzo-soprano Elīna Garanča is featured in a recently released UNITEL video recording of a 2020 Salzburg Festival performance of Wagner’s WESENDONCK LIEDER, conducted by Christian Thielemann. The Austrian maestro leads the Vienna Philharmonic in the Felix Mottl orchestration of Wagner’s song group and in Anton Bruckner’s Symphony no. 4 in E flat major, “Romantic.”
While Richard Wagner was living in exile in Switzerland after running afoul of the German authorities in the aftermath of the 1848 anti-monarchy insurrection, he was befriended by the wealthy Otto and Mathilde von Wesendonck, who offered the composer and his wife their hospitality in a lovely cottage on their property.
Wagner was soon hard at work on his Tristan und Isolde. He also managed to find the time to write one of his most important non-operatic works: the Wesendonck Lieder, which he composed during a period of roughly eight months between 1867 and 1868.
The music of two of the five songs subtly evokes some of the passion and the intensity of Tristan und Isolde in its harmonies and in its texts; the later came from Frau von Wiesendonck, eliciting speculations of a possible romantic liaison between the composer and his patroness.
Originally written for voice and piano and later orchestrated by Felix Mottl, the writing is pure Wagner: rich with chromaticism and laden with barely contained emotion that repeatedly bubbles up in both the orchestral accompaniment and in the vocal writing.
Now in her forties and in the second decade of a major career, Elīna Garanča has risen to preeminence as the kind of singer seemingly able to take on just about any music written for her voice type. Her career has spanned a beginning as a Rossini-Mozart mezzo that quickly claimed ownership of the roles of Rosina, Angelina, Cherubino and Dorabella, to fairly recent successes in the dramatic roles of Princess Eboli in Don Carlos, Santuzza in Cavalleria Rusticana, Delilah in Samson et Dalila and Didon in Les Troyens.
Wagner awaited, and the mezzo’s singing of Der Engel, Stehe still!, Im Treibhaus, Schmerzen, and Träume hints at things to come. Pehaps a Fricka, an Ortrud, a Kundry or a Venus await this artist sometime in the future, although for now one is content to enjoy Garanča’s unmannered vocalism, her sculptured phrasing, and the sheer beauty of her voice in many a lyric part
Christian Thielemann’s conducting is businesslike, elegant, and obliging though never subservient to his soloist. In Anton Bruckner’s Symphony no. 4 in E flat major, “Romantic” he crafts an architecturally cohesive interpretation of that composer’s most Romantic of his nine completed symphonies, drawing a perfectly balanced sound from the Vienna Philharmonic.
Michael Beyer’s video direction is superb, focusing on Elīna Garanča during the most part of the approximately 25 minute duration of the Wesendonck Lieder.
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