Various Artists

The Essential Wagner

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Essential Wagner is a double-disc compilation of excerpts from the music dramas of Richard Wagner, selected from EMI's substantial backlist and featuring many artists from the label's roster from the 1960s to the 2000s. This package represents many of the best-known selections, but it is by no means exhaustive or even broad enough for the beginner, for several missing pieces come to mind: the "Venusberg Music" and the "Entry of the Guests" from Tannhäuser, the Prelude to Act III and the "Dance of the Apprentices" from Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, the Prelude to Das Rheingold, "Magic Fire Music" from Die Walküre, "Forest Murmurs" from Siegfried, "Siegfried's Rhine Journey" from Götterdämmerung, and the "Transformation Scene" and "Good Friday Music" from Parsifal. These all deserved inclusion, but were left out because there are too many possibilities to fit on only two CDs. That might seem a minor point to raise over an essentials album, for surely the pieces included here are among the most significant, and the performances are far from mediocre. Even so, dabbling in Wagner's music might not be the best way to get to know the composer. Certainly any greatest-hits package can introduce newcomers to Wagner's works, and this one surely whets one's appetite. But it's unwise to suggest that his vast output can be reduced to essentials, for the purchase of this incomplete sampler will necessitate getting several others just to cover all the concert extracts. Listeners should not stop at this collection, but should move on to explore complete works. Perhaps more than other composers, Wagner demands a serious commitment to his concepts and philosophy of music, and anthologies can never replace the full experience of his expansive music dramas.

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