“The studio atmosphere means that there are no obvious theatrical effects… But Semyon Bychkov's impassioned conducting ensures that there's no serious loss of theatricality; and even in ordinary stereo the big ensembles sound immensely imposing (the end of Act 2 overwhelming)... Although none of the cast surpasses the work's best exponents elsewhere, all are well worth hearing. Not the best Lohengrin ever then, but its good to have such a well characterised and sumptuously recorded new version.” Gramophone Magazine, July 2009
“This is a gloriously played and sung account of Wagner's first unqualified masterpiece...Semyon Bychkov's handling of the huge score takes pride of place on these discs, for its dramatic sweep and power, the delicacy and finesse with which the more lyrical passages are teased out, and for the superlative performances he extracts from the Cologne Radio Orchestra and its chorus...You have to go back quite a few years to find a new Lohengrin as accomplished as this on disc.” The Guardian, 15th May 2009
“This recording of Semyon Bychkov's slow-burning interpretation is a gift...the cast sings intelligently and subtly, while the orchestral performance combines gravity, ethereality and immaculate chording.” The Independent on Sunday, 10th May 2009
“For the magnificent choral singing — the joint North and West German Radio choirs and the Prague Chamber Choir — and orchestral playing alone, this studio version of Wagner’s great “romantic opera” ranks with the best released on disc.” Sunday Times, 26th April 2009 ****
“Semyon Bychkov conducts a robustly powerful yet airily textured performance, keenly dramatic yet finely detailed. His Cologne orchestra and various choruses, focused and involved, sound tremendous in surround-sound, and his cast is similarly strong. Johan Botha's clear, bright tone and unforced power embody the title role splendidly...” BBC Music Magazine, July 2009 *****
“Bychkov's study of the score is evident from the start of the Prelude, voiced as Wagner's own programme notes suggest...Pieczonka has all of Elsa's strangeness, her misapprehension, her doubts and her naivety...Botha sings and phrases the music beautifully.” Gramophone Magazine, July 2010
“As a studio recording, this new Profil release can claim a degree of rarity value. Also rare is its inclusion of a segment of Lohengrin's 'In fernem Land' monologue which Wagner cut at the time of the premiere, though this has previously appeared in two of the best earlier recordings (from Leinsdorf and Barenboim – see below).
The studio atmosphere means that there are no obvious theatrical effects: no thumps and bumps during fights, for example. But Semyon Bychkov's impassioned conducting ensures that there's no serious loss of theatricality; and even in ordinary stereo the big ensembles sound immensely imposing (the end of Act 2 overwhelming), which compensates to a degree for a wide dynamic range that makes it difficult to set a single suitable volume level throughout.
It can be argued that Wagner never settled on a definitive version of Act 3. He was surely right to cut the anticlimactic episode after Lohengrin reveals his and his father's names, but despite its inclusion here, Profil has failed to include the text in a libretto whose usefulness is already compromised by not having German, French and English in parallel, as well as by a fusty English translation.
Fortunately, there are many positive factors too. Bychkov's reading is admirable, with only occasional exaggerations (including slowing up towards the end of the Act 1 Prayer). Although none of the cast surpasses the work's best exponents elsewhere, all are well worth hearing.
Johan Botha is ardent and mellifluous, lacking only that finely spun, silvery thread of tone that distinguished Jess Thomas in the role; nor does Petra Lang – for all her sensitivity to the text – quite set the stage ablaze as Astrid Varnay did.
Adrianne Pieczonka is occasionally shrill in more strenuous passages, but there's an attractive tonal brightness that brings extra weight to her Elsa. Underpinning it all are the excellent Cologne forces, with Bychkov in the Act 1 Prelude conveying the 'awesome sweetness' that has to be brought to life if the drama is to work its magic. Not the best Lohengrin ever then, but it's good to have such a well characterised and sumptuously recorded new version.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010