Gerd Schaller / Philharmonie Festiva

Carl Goldmark: Merlin

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Karl Goldmark's 1886 opera Merlin can best be summed up as Wagnerian. In addition to the influence of Wagner, there are instances of an almost Mendelssohnian elegance and delicacy, as well as moments of a hale-and-hearty Slavic character. But it's Wagner's fingerprints that are virtually everywhere: in the text setting, the character of the musical gestures, the harmonies, the orchestration, the epic subject, the emotional intensity, the portentous tone, and the length. The difficulty is that Wagner's genius for memorable melody, astute characterization, musical and dramatic momentum, harmonic inventiveness, control of large musical forms, (and, yes), economy, is missing. Almost the whole of the opera, in fact, sounds like it might have been made up of scraps of music gathered from Wagner's cutting room floor. There's nothing wrong with Merlin -- Goldmark's craft and instincts are never in doubt, the Act Two love duet is lovely, and there are countless little felicities that grab the listener's attention -- but it is simply not touched by the magical spark of inspiration that made it possible for Wagner to hold audiences rapt for hours. Nonetheless, a performance of this quality, of a competent but less than stellar work, is a welcome addition to the catalog, as documentation of the pervasiveness of Wagner's hold over the imagination of so many of his contemporaries and of the generation that immediately followed him. Immense care has obviously gone into the details of this recording. Gerd Schaller leads Philharmonie Festiva and Philharmonischer Chor München in a committed and polished reading of the score. The cast is large, and although none of the soloists are internationally well-known, the singers have pleasing voices and are fully competent, and they make as strong a case as possible for the work. Profil's sound is clean and clear, with a good sense of presence, but some singers sound like they are miked a little too closely.

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