This live 2011 recording is the fourth installment in Pentatone's ambitious Wagner cycle, set to be completed in 2013 to celebrate the bicentennial of the composer's birth, featuring Marek Janowski leading Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin and Rundfunkchor Berlin. Janowski's reading, which is in general snappier than the average, wisely leans toward emphasizing the extremes in the score; the slow sections are ethereally serene and the fast have a buoyant, sometimes almost reckless energy. It makes for an exciting and propulsive performance, and the orchestra plays with agility and rich, sensuous tone. This is a concert performance, but everyone involved performs with urgency and strong sense of drama.
Günther Groissböck as Heinrich stands head and shoulders above the rest of the cast. His oaken, ringing, authoritative bass rivets attention whenever he sings; he's entirely persuasive as a powerful medieval monarch. As Telramund, Gerd Grochowski has less commanding vocal equipment, but he's a terrifically engaging singing actor and his scenes with Susanne Resmark as Ortrud crackle with energy and are among the highlights of the performance. The romantic leads are overall less effective. Klaus Florian Vogt as Lohengrin sings with musicality but has a relatively light tenor that sounds like he would be more at ease in bel canto and Mozart; he just doesn't have the heroic timbre and bearing this role requires. Annette Dasch sounds somewhat out of her comfort zone as Elsa, particularly in the first act and when she is called on to sing at full volume. Their voices are beautifully suited to the third act duet, though; its more intimate emotions and more delicate orchestration give them a chance to shine without strain, and they have real chemistry as their tender lovers' conversation devolves into a nightmarish confrontation of broken trust. The sound of the hybrid SACD is wonderfully clear and is as clean and well-balanced as a studio recording.