Richard Wagner Concert Overtures Delightfully Charming

Jun Märkl and the MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra present a program of rarely-performed Wagner. And it’s a darned appealing program.

The two concert overtures and the overture to König Enzio were all written before 1832. Wagner was in his teens, and his influences run close to the surface. The works sound like a mix of Beethoven and Weber — with a dash of originality.

The 1836 overture to Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure leans more towards Bellini. This tuneful work bustles with energy and sparkles with exotic percussion.

The “Christopher Columbus Overture” is from this same period. It sounds suitably heroic. But the overture doesn’t convey the feeling of the open sea as effectively as Der fliegende Holländer, written six years later.

“Die Feen” (The Fairies), Wagner’s first opera, was also written around this time. The overture seems to come from the same fantastical sonic world as Mendelssohn’s “Midsummer’s Night” and Weber’s “Der Freischütz.” The exotic harmonic progressions, though, are all Wagner’s own and look to the future.

That future arrives in the final work of the release, the Siegfried Idyll. This is music by the mature Wagner, in full command of his own musical language.

Wagner’s early works were seldom performed in his lifetime, and only rarely afterward. Unlike some Wagner’s minor works — like the Centennial March — these deserve a second hearing. While the influences are easy to spot, these works aren’t derivative. Wagner’s personality keeps bursting through.

The MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra perform well. While the early works might not be Wagner at his best, Jun Märkl takes them seriously. His thoughtful interpretations bring out the merits and charms in these pieces.

None of these works (except for Siegfried Idyll) are on the same level as Wagner’s famous operas. But as concert overtures, they work just fine. And I enjoyed hearing them performed well.

Richard Wagner: Concert Overtures
MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra; Jun Märkl, conductor

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