Classical Music: Replay/ Robert Cowan makes his pick of the latest reissues

Lotte Lehmann sings Opera and Lieder (Recorded: 1927-1942) (Pearl GEMM CDS 9234, two discs); Liszt: Dante Symphony and tone-poems Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra / Kurt Masur (Recorded: 1979-1980) (EMI Forte CZS5 68598 2, two discs)

If you want to know what's missing from today's Wagner performances, put on Disc 1 track 12 of this compulsively listenable anthology. There, Lauritz Melchior and Lotte Lehmann animate Die Walkure's first-act Love Duet with a degree of candour that most modern singers would deem embarrassing. The whole of Act 1 is available elsewhere (on EMI or Danacord), but here the last quarter of an hour glows comfortably among some of Lehmann's finest studio recordings. The voice itself is strong, vibrant and just a little nasal; its range is uncommonly wide (Lehmann's low notes have a positively sensual allure), while the manner of its employment is consistently musical.

Finest among the operatic items are Reiza's "Ozean, du Ungerheuer!" from Oberon and "Agathe's Prayer" from Der Freischutz, while Lehmann's Marschallin is, like her Sieglinde, supremely alive (again the excerpt included is taken from a far longer sequence). Her vivid sense of musical narrative illuminates Schumann's song-cycles Dichterliebe and Frauenliebe und -Leben, both with Bruno Walter at the piano and recorded during the last war. Here, tonal lustre is partially compromised by minor vocal shortcomings, though Lehmann's diction remains impeccable. The sound is pretty good, especially in the earlier items (ie the pre-war operatic repertory) but Pearl's transfer of the Schumann cycles is generally inferior to Sony's (a single CD, currently unavailable).

No one listening to the stormier episodes of Liszt's so-called Dante Symphony could miss their echoing presence in Tchaikovsky's Francesca da Rimini, while Ce qu'on entend sur la montagne - which was actually orchestrated by Joachim Raff - has significant points in common with Smetana's more concise Richard III. And while few will deny that Festklange, Die Ideale and The Battle of the Huns have their longueurs, all three include pages of gloriously unbridled action-music, the sort that early film-composers freely imitated. Even more remarkable is the last of Liszt's tone-poems, From the Cradle to the Grave, where life's struggles are granted Bartokian urgency and the grave beckons with a chill wind and a handful of motives half-remembered. This is the very best of "late" Liszt and Masur's performance is among the finest we've had. EMI's closely balanced recordings report the grip of bow on string (especially among cellos and basses) while the Leipzig Orchestra combines disciplined execution with impressive warmth of tone.

Subsequent re-releases should, one hopes, include the Faust Symphony, the remaining tone-poems and all Liszt's works for piano and orchestra. In that respect alone, Masur steals a lead on the musically comparable but less comprehensive Haitink series (Philips).

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