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 Recording of the Week  Wagner - Klaus Florian Vogt and a new Parsifal

As plans for next year’s Wagner bicentenary gather apace, I have a new recital disc and the latest Pentatone opera to savour this week. In the recital corner, we have ‘Helden’ (Heroes) from the German tenor Klaus-Florian Vogt, who first caught my eye and ear two years ago as a graffiti-spraying, combat-trousered and gloriously sweet-toned Walther in Katherina Wagner’s controversial Bayreuth Meistersinger. Wagner forms the mainstay of the programme (and of Vogt’s current repertoire), but it’s a treat to hear him in Tamino’s aria, which still fits him like a glove despite almost a decade of singing heavier roles, and serves as a reminder that even Wagner’s most taxing roles were written for singers who would have been performing Mozart and bel canto alongside their new demanding repertoire.

Klaus Florian Vogt
Klaus Florian Vogt

Despite the title, Vogt sounds nothing like a typical Heldentenor (I think my initial response when Chris played this in the office was ‘Wow, this sounds like Ian Bostridge singing Siegmund!'). His sound is far slimmer, lighter and brighter than one usually hears in heroic repertoire, but has a real metallic core and a thrilling ‘blade’ in the upper register that allows him to scythe through even the heaviest orchestration. There’s no bellowing or bluster: he really sings this music, and his plangent, youthful timbre make him an exceptionally vulnerable Siegmund, a shy but quietly-confident Walther and one of the most truly ethereal Lohengrins you’re likely to hear.

The disc was recorded live in concert last July, so the arias are interspersed with orchestral interludes from the operas in order to give Vogt some well-earned breathing space. The Deutsche Opera Orchestra play them all beautifully, so it seems a bit churlish of me to say that I was left wanting more Vogt, but he’s so consistently beguiling that I was itching to hear him in Lohengrin and Walther’s Act One arias and Siegmund’s great ‘Walse!’ monologue: a viable programme in a studio-recording but an impossibly tough night as a live performance! No matter – there are riches aplenty here, and I’m sure we’ll be hearing more from this distinctive singer in the years to come!

Christian Elsner
Christian Elsner

For another dramatic tenor with lyricism and stamina to burn, look no further than Christian Elsner, the eponymous hero of Marek Janowski’s Parsifal. Like Vogt, Elsner isn’t especially well-known outside his native Germany (or on disc) and, whilst there’s far more ‘muscle’ and baritonal colour in his voice, he shares Vogt’s Mozart background, vocal freshness and willingness to ‘do’ vulnerability – major assets in this role.

His Kundry, Michelle de Young, may sound a little matronly to some ears (she sounds vastly more mature than the skittish flower-maidens), but it’s entirely in keeping with the weirdly Oedipal aspects of the role, and she’s fully alive to the schizophrenic shifts in mood which Wagner demands. Not afraid to make ugly sounds when the drama calls for them, she turns on the maternal warmth and voluptuousness to great effect in the seduction-scene.

Veteran Wagnerian Franz-Josef Selig is every bit as eloquent and insightful as you’d expect in the verbose role of Gurnemanz: the long monologues never run out of steam, and his elegy for the dead swan in Act One is quite exquisitely poignant. Eike Wilm Schulte is searingly abrasive as Klingsor but still elicits shards of sympathy in his narration of his own failed quest to join the Grail-Knights (the booklet essay also argues against reading the character as a one-dimensional villain). In the pit, Janowski paces things immaculately: there’s a serene, lucid radiance to the Prelude and Good Friday Music, and never a hint of anything ponderous or stodgy. What a valuable undertaking this Wagner cycle is turning out to be!

Klaus Florian Vogt: Helden

Klaus Florian Vogt (tenor), Orchestra of Deutsche Oper Berlin, Peter Schneider

Available Formats: CD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC

Wagner: Parsifal

Evgeny Nikitin, Christian Elsner, Franz-Josef Selig, Michelle de Young, Dimitry Ivaschenko, Eike Wilm Schulte, Rundfunkchor Berlin & Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester, Marek Janowski

Available Formats: SACD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC