Vernon Handley

Wagner: The Ride of the Valkyries; Overtures to Rienzi, The Flying Dutchman, Tannhäuser; etc.

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With the exception of Siegfried Idyll, a lyrical potpourri on themes from Siegfried that Richard Wagner composed as a freestanding piece, the orchestral favorites presented on this album are taken from his operas, Die Walküre, Rienzi, Lohengrin, Der fliegende Holländer, and Tannhäuser. Vernon Handley and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra recorded these overtures and concert extracts in 1993, and the sound of the performances is stunning for the time, employing state-of-the-art digital recording that holds up remarkably well today. The Ride of the Valkyries is an explosion of colors, opening the program with a tour de force of orchestration that is matched here only by the energetic Prelude to Act III of Lohengrin and the shimmering Overture to Tannhäuser. Somewhat less brilliant, though memorable for their bold themes, are the Overtures to Rienzi and Der fliegende Holländer, which are among the most dramatic of his purely orchestral pieces, even though they are less masterful in their orchestration than the examples cited above. As is the case with any sampler of Wagner's music, there are many hits that couldn't be included, such as any excerpts from Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Tristan und Isolde, or Parsifal, or other sections from Der Ring des Nibelungen. That requires listeners to try several compilations to get a more rounded idea of Wagner's output, and to prepare for deeper exploration of his music dramas. Still, this album is a worthwhile disc for beginners and definitely enjoyable for its exciting performances.

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