WAGNER:  The Flying Dutchman (Overture, "Die Frist ist um").  Die Meistersinger ("Wahn! Wahn! Überall Wahn!,"  "Was duftet doch der Flieder."  Tannh”user  ("Wie Todesahnung D”mmrung deckt die Lande - O du mein holder Abenstern")  Parsifal  ("Nein! Laft ihn unenthüllt!.,  Ja, Wehe!  Wehe!  Weh' über mich"). Die Walküre ("Leb'wohl, du kühnes, herrliches Kind!).
Bryn Terfel, bass-baritone/Berlin Philharmonic Orch; Claudio Abbado, cond.

DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON  471 348 (F) (DDD) TT:  72:00

It's not that Bryn Terfel cannot sing Wagner—nothing on this disappointing CD taxed his vocal resources between November 2000 and May 2001 in a studio environment—even if that "studio" was the quirky Philharmonie that Berlin built for Karajan. On the other hand, most of it he probably shouldn't sing for another decade, if then. Certainly Terfel possesses the steadiest, most beautiful, most unstressed bass-baritone voice heard in this repertory since James Morris was young. But these remains bleeding chunks, several without familiar concert endings that would have given a sense of completion, even if Bayreuth's Herrgott didn't write them himself. Only one aria has real character as opposed to generic vocalism (admittedly of a high order): Wolfram's apostrophe to the "Evening Star" in Tannh”user.

Otherwise the Dutchman, Hans Sachs, Amfortas, even Wotan in the final scene of Die Walküre are indistinguishable as characters, and pretty bland ones at that. We may not have heard Wotan's Farewell sung as mellifluously since George London's prime years, but the poignance of his "Leb'wohl" (to the favorite of more daughters than even Anna Russell could count) simply isn't in Terfel's singing. Nor is Vanderdecken's depth of anguish in "Die Frist is um" from The Dutchman, or Hans Sach's September-Song sensibilities in the two great monologs from Die Meistersinger, or Amfortas' physical as well a spiritual agony in two excerpts from Parsifal.

As non-committal as Terfel sounds, however, the problem is hardly his alone. A greater disappointment is Claudio Abbado's unidiomatic conducting. I'll venture he's never led one of these operas in a staged performance, and possibly not even conducted a couple of chunks before the sessions that produced this CD. It begins with the Dutchman Overture from a "live recording"—as bland as it has ever sounded from a maestro of Abbado's credentials. It may be that the radical gastric surgery he was forced to suffer in the new millennium has taken an inestimtable toll, while the Berlin Phil hardly sounds supportive in what sounds like Just Another Session.

The notes say that Terfel was soloist when Abbado conducted an all-Wagner, New Year's Eve gala in 1993 (how can we have missed this on PBS, although DGG is reported to have recorded it?). Also, an aria disc by Terfel in 1996 included Wolfram's aria and the Dutchman's monolog - a CD I didn't even know existed. 1993 and 1996 were bad years medically in my life (not to downplay 1994, 1995 or 2000). Moreover, where I lived in those years, broadcast reception (both from Washington, DC, and Baltimore) was poor. A lot got by me.

Sorry to say it as a fan of Terfel's Mozart and Verdi, I wish this disc had, too.

R.D. (April 2002)