German Overtures

Werke von / Works by
Marschner · Mendelssohn
Nicolai · Weber · Wagner
Wiener Philharmoniker
Int. Release 04 Oct. 2004
0289 474 5022 1

Track List

Felix Mendelssohn (1809 - 1847)
Carl Maria von Weber (1786 - 1826)
Euryanthe, Op. 81, J. 291


Oberon, J. 306


Felix Mendelssohn (1809 - 1847)
The Hebrides, Op. 26 - "Fingal's Cave"


Otto Nicolai (1810 - 1849)
Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor


Heinrich August Marschner (1795 - 1861)
Hans Heiling, Op. 80


Richard Wagner (1813 - 1883)
Rienzi, WWV 49


Wiener Philharmoniker, Christian Thielemann

Total Playing Time 1:11:19

. . . his performances, and the playing of the Vienna Philharmonic, are never less than warm, bright and colourful.

. . . Thielemann's approach is not one-dimensional. He captures the aura of the spirit world in Euryanthe and Oberon, and the revolutionary fervour as well as the pomp of Rienzi. Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream has an apt lightness of touch, with fairy-like delicacy at the end.

Thielemann leads his refined and precise players in stylish readings, the recording is bright and focused.

Mixed collections of overtures have become quite a rarity on new CDs and there is much to admire in this one from Christian Thielemann, not least the refinement of the Vienna Philharmonic's playing. These are performances of extremes, not only in the range of dynamic . . . but also in contrasts of tempo . . . Throughout the disc, the playing of the Vienna Philharmonic, recorded in the Musikverein, is a delight . . .

That Christian Thielemann is the great German conductor of the day should be no surprise to anyone who attended his opening concert with the Munich Philharmonic. The performance of Bruckner's Fifth Symphony, as recorded in concert by DGG, is one for the ages and lays down the gauntlet to Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic . . . What Thielemann accomplished with the often under-performing Berlin pit musicians would have been astonishing enough, but it was allied to interpretations of great breadth, detail, and imagination. Here, in a recording with the Vienna Philharmonic, is Thielemann on musical home territory -- the German romantics -- and the results are nothing short of sensational . . . reminiscent of both Furtwängler and Klemperer: the sonic weight of Furtwängler and the clarity of Klemperer . . . with its superbly balanced orchestra, transparency, and inflection of inner voices . . . [an] extraordinary recording.

Kein Zweifel, seit Herbert von Karajan hat kein anderer Dirigent einem Ouvertüren-Programm auf einer Schallplatte soviel Liebe und Sorgfalt angedeihen lassen als Christian Thielemann. Und doch unterscheidet sich der Karajan-Schüler erheblich gerade vom Meister, weil er vor allem agogisch viel freier, persönlicher und gefühlvoller mit dem Musikmaterial umgeht. Unter Thielemanns gestischen und figurativ vorgehenden Händen werden diese betont romantischen Ouvertüren richtige Handlungskonzentrate der Oper . . . Gemeinsam ist allen hier gehörten Interpretationen die unglaubliche Rhetorik, die nicht zuletzt durch sehr klug gewählte Tempi und eine genaue Auslotung der Partituren zustande kommt . . . Sie schaffen Kontraste, sie bringen eine selten vernommene Expressivität. Thielemann weiß um die Wirkung von Rallentando und Accelerando, er weiß, wann die Musik schwingen, wann sie zurückgenommen werden muss, er bringt Verhaltenheit und Aufschwung zum Zusammenspiel, weil er nicht durchgehend Intensität fordert, keine wie brillant auch immer inszenierte Banalität und auch keine pompöse dekorative Theatralik, sondern richtige, nuancierte und spannende Musik machen will. Das ist ihm hier genial gelungen.

Obwohl die Ouvertüren allesamt zur emotionalen Grundausrüstung der deutschen Innerlichkeit gehören, eröffnen sie gleichzeitig Einblicke in Reiche ohne Grenzen, in denen die Meisterwerke eines William Shakespeare oder vermeintliche Phantasiegebilde in Gestalt von Märchen- und Geisterwesen zu Hause sind. Christian Thielemann setzt deshalb nicht auf hohles Pathos. Er führt das Klangwunder der Wiener Philharmoniker zu den musikalischen und geistigen Verbindungslinien einer gemeinsamen kulturellen Heimat.

Christian Thielemann liebt das deutsche Orchesterrepertoire. Auffallend ist die fein ziselierte Farbgebung in den beiden Mendelssohn-Ouvertüren. Mit den brillant aufspielenden Wiener Philharmonikern wird der Erzromantiker, ohne pathetisch wuchern zu lassen, der dramatischen Deklamation und subtilen Orchestersprache in Marschners "Hans Heiling" Ouvertüre gerecht. Da wetterleuchtet bereits der spätere Wagner, den Christian Thielemann dann mit viel Glanz im Blech, gezügelt, aber ohne "preussisch-zackigen" Beigeschmack in der Ouvertüre zu "Rienzi" vorüberziehen lässt.

Thielemann lanzado desde principios de los 90 a una carrera internacional a la que hoy parece no quererle ver límite, desde el foso o el podio de la orquesta sinfónica, viene desplegando un talento con resultados musicales que, efectivamente, nos pueden recordar las esencias de la escuela alemana. . . . Thielemann ahora, y tras ya una carrera muy consolidada, trata de equilibrar sonido con concepto y, aun sin hacer concesiones, parece pensar algo más en "color". Ejemplo palmario de ello es su último disco . . . con oberturas alemanas, de paleta tímbrica prodigiosa. Este berlinés de buenísimo planta, de aspecto señorial y tranquilo, ha pasado ya por momentos profesionales fundamentales . . . pero tiene por delante una carrera que no ha hecho más que comenzar.

El hoy olvidado Nicolai con sus Alegres comadres de Windsor y el desconocido Heinrich Marschner son rescatados aquí en un ejercicio de transparentación del tejido orquestal que demuestra la gran maestría del director.

Christian Thielemann ... acaba sorprendiendo ... por su talento para extraerle el jugo expresivo a las obras que dirige. ... En sus manos, la Filarmónica de Viena suena, como siempre, a las mil maravillas, precisamente en un repertorio que carece de secretos para la veterana formación.

La [obertura] de Euryanthe suena enérgica y sorprende en ella el color prewagneriano de alguno de sus pasajes.
German Overtures

The poets and musicians of the decades associated with the terms Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) and Romanticism had two favourite figures, one the epitome of a dramatist, the other a phantom: Shakespeare and the legendary Celtic bard Ossian, son of King Fingal. Even if the poems that circulated as the “songs of Ossian" were soon exposed as a clever forgery by the Scottish poet James Macpherson, their readers continued to devour them.

Mendelssohn, too, was fond of both Shakespeare and Ossian. He read A Midsummer Night's Dream in the translation by August Wilhelm Schlegel and in 1826, when he was still only 17, he wrote his Overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream op. 21, his second stroke of genius after his Octet op. 20. The piece begins with four quiet, sustained chords in the winds, a magical opening that reveals a world of wonders, surprises and opposites. The shimmering, vibrant realm of fairies, elves and goblins ruled by Oberon and Titania gives way to the festive pomp of Duke Theseus's court and then to the earthily stamping rhythms of the rude mechanicals. A quotation from the Mermaid's Song from the end of Act II of Oberon is a conscious tribute to Weber.

The impresario Domenico Barbaia was encouraged by the success of the 1821 Berlin première of Der Freischütz to invite Weber to write a piece for Vienna's Kärntnertor-Theater, where he hoped that a German Romantic opera might add to the composer's fame and not only prove a money-spinner but provide a welcome contrast to the Italian - and especially Rossinian - operas that were then all the rage. But things did not work out as Barbaia hoped, and in spite of Weber's conducting, the first performance of Euryanthe on 25 October 1823 turned out to be a fiasco. The overture, on the other hand, became a favourite item on concert programmes. Written in the heroic key of E flat major, it opens with cascades of triplets chasing each other up and down the scale before a march theme enters in the woodwind and brass that gives way in turn to a flowing string cantilena marked “dolce". As in the overture to Der Freischütz and in the later overture to Oberon, contrast is provided by the alternative world of ghosts and the supernatural, presented in the form of a middle section headed “Largo" and entrusted to eight violins: the result resembles nothing so much as a disembodied ghost, 15 bars in which the music - as yet formless - seeks in vain for a harmonic centre.

Antithetical worlds also endow Weber's Oberon with its sense of contrast: once again we enter not only Oberon's magic realm of fairies, goblins, elves and water sprites - the world of ghosts and spirits - but also the world of mortals. An argument has broken out between Oberon and Titania, and two human couples, one heroic, the other contrastively comical, are required to take part in an experiment. Human love has to prove its strength and tadfastness, only then will Oberon and Titania be reconciled. The quarrelsome immortals will take their cue from the mortals' example. In Mendelssohn's Overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream, the four chords that fan out at the start provide the key that allows us to enter the fairy realm, while the Oberon overture opens with a call on the elfin king's magic horn that Sir Huon of Bordeaux will take with him on his dangerous adventure.

Mendelssohn loved England and was familiar with the world of Ossian. During the summer of 1829 he and his friend Karl Klingemann visited the Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland. In Fingal's Cave on the island of Staffa he was spontaneously struck by the first 20 bars of a new concert overture. It may have been the densely compact vertical arrangement of the six-sided basalt columns supporting the weight of the cave's roof and the play of colour produced by the water that gave him the idea for the descending motion of the opening motif, which he was to take up again in several variations. He played the first version of the overture to Berlioz on the piano in Rome in 1831. His French colleague thought highly of the “finely wrought musical texture decorated with such rich colours". Brahms freely admitted that he would willingly have sacrificed all his own works if only he could have written this music. And even Wagner found it in himself to praise the overture as “one of the most wonderful pieces of music ever written".

“Magical moonlit night / That holds the sense enthralled": these lines from Ludwig Tieck's prologue, “The Entry of the Romance", literally cue in Otto Nicolai's opera Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor. This work is based on another of Shakespeare's comedies, The Merry Wives of Windsor, in which the adventurer Falstaff is punished for his womanizing, but here the spirit world is not genuine, being rather part of a masquerade in which ghosts are stage-managed and exorcised in the moonlit Windsor Park. The overture anticipates the whispering of the elves as they trip their nightly measures: once again, it is the realm of Titania and Oberon that is conjured up in the music. In the final scene, the young lovers Anna and Fenton bring about the reconciliation between the royal couple and at the same time plight their troth. Nicolai had been specifically asked to write a German opera, but the elaborate blend of German Romanticism and Italian opera buffa that characterizes his Falstaff setting found little response when the work was first performed in Berlin under the composer's own direction in March 1849. Not until it was staged at Vienna's Kärntnertor-Theater in 1852 did it achieve the popularity that it continues to enjoy to this day in the German-speaking world.

Heinrich Marschner's opera Hans Heiling likewise revolves around a clash between the spirit world and that of human beings. The libretto was written by the actor, singer and theatre manager Eduard Devrient and was in fact intended for Mendelssohn, who was a close friend of his, but Mendelssohn was worried by its ostensible similarity with Der Freischütz and was hesitant about setting it. Disappointed, Devrient offered the text to Marschner, and the work proved a success at its first performance at the Berlin Court Opera in May 1833 under the composer's own direction. It was Marschner's third operatic success. The overture, which had been heard two months earlier at the Leipzig Gewandhaus, describes the emotional upheaval of the titular hero, who is the son of the Queen of the Gnomes and a mortal father and who longs to feel human love and mortality. He cannot win the love of his bride Anna even with the help of a book on magic that he carries round with him on his mission and which looks forward to Wagner's Der fliegende Holländer and Tannhäuser rather than backwards to Der Freischütz. Like the Oberon overture, it begins with a horn call.

In Wagner's overture to Rienzi, the horn call of Oberon and Hans Heiling is transformed into three sustained notes on a solo trumpet. Here there is no sense of any confrontation between the spirit world and that of human beings. Instead the notes are a signal for revolution and for the unfolding of a political and historical panorama of 14th-century Rome, with its bloody discord between the nobles, townsfolk and plebeians and its account of the rise and fall of the papal notary, people's tribune and ultimately impotent freedom fighter Cola di Rienzi. The overture is dominated by two motifs, Rienzi's Prayer from Act V and the battle hymn Santo spirito cavaliere. The first performance at the Dresden Court Theatre on 20 October 1842 was conducted by Carl Gottlieb Reissiger and was a tremendous success in spite of the opera's inordinate length and the extreme demands placed on singers and audience alike.

Karl Dietrich Gräwe
(Translation: Stewart Spencer)

Christian Thielemann - Chronology

00289 474 8012

Christian Thielemann – Chronology

Christian Thielemann was born in Berlin in 1959 and began what Karajan called the clas­sical conductor’s ”hard but indispensable slog” through numerous small theatres at an early age. After 20 years of operatic experience, Thielemann, who also has been guest conductor-in-chief at the Teatro Comunale of Bologna, started concentrating on a few selected orches­tras and opera houses such as Covent Garden in London, the Metropolitan in New York and the Vienna State Opera.


Conducts Wagner’s Lohengrin with great success at the Deutsche Oper, Berlin


US debut conducting a new production of Strauss’s Elektra in San Francisco, soon followed by engagements at the Metropolitan, including Strauss’s Rosen­kavalier and, later, Arabella with Kiri Te Kanawa (released by Deutsche Gram­mophon on VHS and DVD)
In the years that follow he regularly conducts leading American orchestras (Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Minnesota) as well as appear­ing with such major international orchestras as the Berliner Philharmoniker and Israel Philharmonic Orchestra


After engagements at all the major Italian opera houses, named Principal Guest Conductor of the Teatro Comunale of Bologna


Conducts new production of Pfitzner’s Palestrina at the Deutsche Oper; be­comes exclusive artist of Deutsche Grammophon – first releases: Preludes and Overtures by Pfitzner and Strauss with the Orchestra of the Deutsche Oper, and Beethoven Symphonies Nos. 5 & 7 with the Philharmonia


Conducts Wagner’s Die Meistersinger at the Deutsche Oper as well as a new production of Palestrina at Covent Garden, having appeared there during earlier seasons with Janáãek’s Jenufa and Strauss’s Elektra


Becomes General Music Director of the Deutsche Oper; at that house since
then he has conducted Mozart’s Figaro, all of Wagner’s later operas including the complete Ring, Strauss’s Elektra, Die Frau ohne Schatten, and Daphne, Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron and Henze’s Der Prinz von Homburg; concert performances of Strauss’s Die ägyptische Helena at Covent Garden; debuts with the Royal Concertgebouw and Leipzig Gewandhaus orchestras; Thielemann’s CD releases in this period include Schumann’s Second Symphony, the begin­ning of a complete cycle with the Philharmonia (coupled with the Manfred Overture and Konzertstück for 4 horns), and Wagner Overtures and Preludes with the Philadelphia Orchestra


Recordings of Orff’s Carmina burana with the Orchestra and Chorus of the Deutsche Oper and Schumann’s Symphony No. 3 coupled with Overture,
Scherzo & Finale
and Genoveva Overture (Echo Award, 2000) released this year


Bayreuth Festival debut conducting Wagner’s Die Meistersinger; Wiener Philharmoniker debut conducting works by Strauss (Alpine Symphony and Rosenkavalier Suite), recorded live by Deutsche Grammophon (Edison Award, 2002); CD release of Schoenberg’s Pelleas und Melisande and Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll with the Orchestra of the Deutsche Oper


Conducts Parsifal at Bayreuth and a new production of Die Frau ohne Schatten at the Metropolitan; directs the Orchestra of the Deutsche Oper at a Wagner Festival held in Paris’s Théâtre des Champs-Élysées; CD releases include
the Wiener Philharmoniker Strauss recordings and Schumann’s Symphonies Nos. 1 & 4, completing the cycle with the Philharmonia


Salzburg Easter Festival debut conducting the Berliner Philharmoniker; Salz­burg Festival debut conducting the Wiener Philharmoniker; conducts a new production of Wagner’s Tannhäuser at the Bayreuth Festival; concerts with the Wiener Philharmoniker in Vienna’s Musikverein and in London, Paris and Dortmund; conducts the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra in a Strauss-Pfitzner-Wagner programme and in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony; release of his CD Evening Star with Thomas Quasthoff and the Orchestra of the Deutsche Oper (CD Compact, Barcelona, 2003)


Conducts a new production of Wagner’s Tristan at the Vienna State Opera; returns to Bayreuth to conduct performances of Tannhäuser; tour to Japan with the Wiener Philharmoniker; releases this year include his recording with the Wiener Philharmoniker of Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben and the suite from Die Frau ohne Schatten (Choc du Monde de la musique, 2003)


Becomes principal conductor of the Münchner Philharmoniker (Munich Phil­harmonic Orchestra); this year he conducts Die Frau ohne Schatten, Die tote Stadt, La fanciulla del West, Parsifal at the Deutsche Oper, Tristan at the Vienna State Opera, and Tannhäuser at the Bayreuth Festival; autumn tour of Spain, Greece, Austria and Germany with the Orchestra of the Deutsche Oper; CD releases this year: Tristan und Isolde, recorded live at the Vienna State Opera, and German overtures with the Wiener Philharmoniker


This year he conducts Der Rosenkavalier, Die Frau ohne Schatten and Daphne at the Deutsche Oper, Parsifal at the Vienna State Opera and Tannhäuser at the Bayreuth Festival, as well as concerts with the Berliner Philharmoniker in Berlin, the Wiener Philharmoniker at the Salzburg Festival and the Münchner Philharmoniker in Munich and on tour throughout Germany


Plans for conducting a new production of Wagner’s Ring at the Bayreuth Festival