Starting to worry about a gift for your partner at Christmas? In 1869, Wagner composed his Siegfried Idyll as a birthday present for his second wife, Cosima. The first performance was given for her birthday on Christmas morning by 13 players who gathered on the staircase of the Wagners’ villa at Tribschen to awaken Cosima from her slumbers.
Thanks to the pandemic, it has been a year of slim pickings for lovers of Wagner’s gigantic operas. This disc, pairing the Siegfried Idyll with the Wesendonck-Lieder, offers a modest but delightful makeweight.
The recordings were made by musicians from the orchestra of the Bayreuth Festival in the drawing-room at Wahnfried, Wagner’s house at Bayreuth. Perhaps surprisingly for this most overbearing of composers, it is a homely space, and so the performances are unusually intimate.
The Siegfried Idyll is given in its original version for 13 players, which is heard comparatively rarely today. Bayreuth’s musical director, Christian Thielemann, encourages sensitivity and beautiful solo playing that makes the most of the chamber-music scale.
The Wesendonck-Lieder are performed in an arrangement by Andreas N Tarkmann for high voice and the same complement of instruments. Soprano Camilla Nylund sings with much detail and restraint. The effect is light and airy, almost chaste, a long way from the hothouse atmosphere usually associated with this music, some of which would find its way into Tristan und Isolde, the ultimate opera of passion.
‘Wagner at Wahnfried’ is released by DG