Ben Heppner Sings German Romantic Opera (WAV)
Ben Heppner Sings German Romantic Opera (WAV)

All thanks fly to Bob

Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Richard Wagner, Carl Maria von Weber
Performer: Ben Heppner
Orchestra: Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, North German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Sir Colin Davis, Donald Runnicles
Audio CD
SPARS Code: DDD
Number of Discs: 1
Label: RCA
Size: 707 MB
Recovery: +3%
Scan: yes

01. Tristan und Isolde: ‘Wo Ich Erwacht, Weilt’ Ich Nicht’
02. Rienzi: ‘Allmacht’ Ger Vater’
03. Siegfried: ‘Selige Ode Auf Sonniger Hoh!’
04. Gotterdammerung: ‘Brunnhilde, Heilige Braut!’
05. Parsifal: ‘Nur Eine Waffe Taugt’
06. Der fliegende Hollander: ‘Willst Jenes Tags Du Dich Nicht Mehr Entsinnen’
07. Fidelio: Gott! Welch Dunkel hier!
08. Der Freischutz: ‘Nein, Langer Traic’ Ich Nicht Die Qualen’
09. Euryanthe: ‘Wehen Mir Lufte Ruh’
10. Die tote Stadt: ‘O Freund, Ich Werde Sie Nicht Wiedersehen’

MAGNIFICENT.

What a magnificent album: Ben Heppner could easily be called the finest Wagnerian heldentenor singing today. I was fortunate enough to hear him in the title role of Wagner’s “Lohengrin” at the Metropolitan Opera House a few seasons ago in a startling production by Robert Wilson. Heppner’s voice is strong and clear and beautifully produced. And even when he is singing with that mighty, huge Met orchestra, he never loses the sweetness in his voice which is one of its most precious qualities. This year he took on the role of ‘Florestan’ in Beethoven’s “Fidelio” in New York and that character’s major aria is gorgeously done on this album. Besides the six Wagner excerpts, my personal favorite is from Korngold’s “Die Tote Stadt.” Highly Recommended for anyone who loves Wagner or for anyone who has no real exposure to him and would like to begin with a beautiful album.

A beautiful voice – but a touch placid in temperament

So much about this recital is wonderful that it might seem a little churlish to cavil at anything, especially in a world so short of voices of this calibre and repertoire, but I find myself in two minds listening to it. The sound quality of this disc is a bit recessed and lacking in bite, so at first I attributed the lack of immediacy in these arias to the engineering and turned it up in quiet bits, only to have to reduce volume again when Heppner got going, but there is a kind of placidity to his singing of these arias which makes it difficult to respond to the drama of their context. It is almost as if he finds it too easy; comparison between the earliest recorded (1995) aria here, from “Fidelio”, and Jon Vicker’s famous version for Klemperer makes the point: Vickers makes the music sound difficult (which it is); the tessitura is very high and there is a dangerous edge to his voice and a strain almost wholly absent from Heppner’s account. Vickers occasionally cracks a little and is the limit of his vocal resources, and he invests the words with so much more tension than Heppner; you really feel as though this is a man on the edge, close to madness in his isolation and terror. Similarly, with a far less glamorous voice, a singer like Windgassen makes us feel the terror of his disovery that the sleeping warrior is a beautiful woman. The Santa Fe listener in his review suggests that this (mostly) 1998 recital points forward to a greater expressiveness yet to develop in Heppner’s voice; I am not sure that this breakthrough has actually occurred as today I still find his singing to be superbly vocalised and a little bland in expression -and he has unfortunately developed a greater propensity to crack, without deepening his interpretations. I am still very grateful for this glorious voice, but I do not find in it everything I had hoped for, especially in Wagner, which represents the summit of a singer’s art. We are lucky to have Heppner but there have been greater heroic tenors.

Ben Heppner is arguably the top Heldentenor

Although I am not a big fan of recordings of this kind, preferring instead either complete scenes or Acts instead of selected arias, it would be hard to seriously fault this record. Heppner’s pitch control is excellent and he reallys sings instead of resorting to declamation (once referred to as the Bayreuth Bark). The orchestral playing and conducting is successful too, as is the sound engineering. All the items on this release are interesting, but I wonder why the Preislied from Meistersinger was excluded, which may well be his signature aria. It is a generous program and the notes are well written. Recommended.

4 Comments

Leave a Reply