Levine: The Munich Years 

(published first at ionarts)

Available from Tower Records:
Available at Tower Records
L.v. Beethoven, R. Wagner Sy. No.7, Siegfried, Act III, J. Levine, Munich Philharmonic
The German Oehms label is in the process of bringing us a good “Levine – the Munich years” retrospective – now standing at volume eight. The Munich Philharmonic (I am biased to this premiere orchestral body from my hometown) is one of the three best orchestras in Germany, though I suppose that among good orchestras the condition on a given day is more important than ratings that are difficult to quantify. (The other two symphony orchestras are the Berlin Philharmonic, of course – and the underrated Bamberg SO.)

While I am far more excited about Christian Thielemann having taken over the MuPhil than I am or was about Levine’s tenure, it is good to have Levine’s account with this orchestra available. (Thielemann’s debut as resident conductor was Bruckner’s 5th Symphony – the work with which Furtwängler and Celibidache opened their tenures – and I count the days until DG releases the recording, at 82 minutes the longest that DG ever squeezed unto one disc.)

Oehm’s discs are mostly stuff for Levine and MuPhil afficionados – perhaps more for the former, because it gives us the opportunity to hear excellently captured live recordings of material that Levine loved but was and is unable to champion in front of his more conservative US audiences in New York and Boston. Carter, Wuorinen, Schoenberg, Webern are all present. Indeed, his Gurrelieder is one of the finest I have heard on disc – and has by far the greatest mainstream appeal of the issues, so far.

But of course there are also a few standards – and such concerts were recorded in February 2001 (his acclaimed “Beethoven-Schoenberg” season) and June 2000. Beethoven’s 7th and Wagner’s Siegfried, Act III respectively. The Beethoven is a free-roaming, or rather: free running, jumping performance with excitement of the moment well caught. It has drive drive and is as topsy turvy as the 7th should be – in short: an eminently worthy 7th that pleased the audience and is fit to continue to do so on disc.

The Wagner is a bit more a curator’s egg. Who really wants just the third act of Siegfried? It’s likely to be nothing or all for the listener at home. Linda Watson has some very nice moments as Brünnhilde and behind her is the glorious sheen of the Munich strings. Levine is particularly good at “moments” in Wagner (judging from his Ring Cycle and the Parsifal DVD I have seen he’s not a man for the continuous flow of narrative) – so it’s pleasant to listen to. Ben Heppner’s Siegfried is better than most Siegfried’s these days. Brigitte Svendén gives sound advice to the Wanderer whose organ (his voice, that is) is one size too small (James Morris).

While the Gurrelieder disc is near-indispensable, this one can probably only interest fans of LvB’s 7th that happen to like Levine. As such it will easily live up to high expectations… no more.

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