WAGNER: Das Rheingold
WAGNER: Die Walküre
MAHLER: Symphony No. 7 in E minor "Song of the Night."
BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 4 in E Flat "Romantic."
At last we have a contemporary treatment of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen that doesn't insult audiences. This production is based on the new "Complete Edition of the works of Richard Wagner," and considerable discussion is given to the numerous (thousands it states) minor changes based on Wagner's notes after the time of the premiere. I doubt most listeners would be aware of these except for faster tempi than usual ("Don't drag...it's not an aria!" Wagner said referring to Brünnhilde in Götterdämmerung). What is important in these performances is the imaginative staging—the stage circles into the audience with the orchestra pit in the center but at only a slightly lower level than the "stage." Sets by George Tsypin are basic but believable, costumes designed by Eiko Ishioka are imaginative and appropriate (the DVD cover shows Brünnhilde's), and Pierre Audi's stage direction is compelling.
All of this is remarkably impressive visually but would be for naught if the singing didn't do justice to Wagner's masterpieces—and generally it does, considering the state of Wagnerian singing today. John Bröcheler's Wotan/Wanderer is uniformly strong, and there is a welcome appearance of Chris Merritt as Loge, a role far removed from the tenor's earlier high-tenor parts that brought him fame, but right for him now. Henk Smit and Graham Clark as Alberich and Mime, vividly portray these disreputable characters. Renihild Runkel is a solid, vocally secure Fricka, Anne Gjevang a strong Erda. Nadine Secunde's Sieglinde gets better as Walküre progresses; by the time of "O hehrstes Wunder!" in Act III she is in excellent form. Likewise, Jeannine Altmeyer's Brünnhilde, rather stressed in her Battle Cry, improves in Act III and her big scene with Wotan is superb. John Keyes isn't a true heldentenor, but he copes well with the demanding role of Siegmund, and visually he is totally convincing. This is the finest batch of Valkyries I've ever heard; no question that one or two of them will be singing major Wagner roles sometime soon. The orchestra (Hague Residentie Orchestra for Rheingold, Netherlands Philharmonic for Walküre), are excellent, and conductor Hartmut Haenchen proves to be a fine Wagnerian conductor. The 5.1 surround sound is full and rich with fine balance between orchestra and singers, photography is superb with the camera almost always in the right spot. I look forward to Siegfried and Götterdämmerung; this is an admirable Ring, infinitely superior to Harry Kupfer's Liceu Opera production both in singing and conception, reviewed on this site: Rheingold, Walküre, and Siegfried and Götterddämmerung.
Claudio Abbado continues his distinguished Mahler recordings with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra with this stunning, inceptive performance of the enigmatic Symphony No. 7 recorded at the Lucerne Festival August 17-18, 2005. As with previous issues, orchestral playing is superb; the Lucerne Festival Orchestra consists of leading players from major European orchestras, plus the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. It's a large ensemble with massive strings. Abbado conducts Symphony No. 7 without score (he has recorded it three times before, once in Chicago, twice in Berliin). He misses none of the mystery of the score, with the three center movements particularly effective. Michael Beyer's direction could not be bettered. The surround sound is fine, although I would have preferred a bit more zing in the higher frequencies.
TDK continues its distinguished series of videos featuring Günter Wand with this issue of Beethoven's Leonore Overture No. 3 and Bruckner's Symphony No. 4 recorded June 24, 1990 at the Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival in Dom Cathedral, Lübeck, June 24, 1990, the same period the vernerable conductor recorded all of Bruckner's Symphonies with the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra for RCA. There also is an RCA recording of a live Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra performance recorded in 1998, four years before Wand's death. It is a pleasure to watch this gentle, unassuming giant of the baton work his magic, and the orchestra shows its affection for him by their superb playing. Director Hugho Käch has done a fine job with the cameras although surprisingly there's no shot of the off-stage trumpet solo in the Beethoven overture. Sound engineer Gerald Götze has done a near-miraculous job in maintaining clarity, although one can never forget this performance is in a church.
R.E.B. (May 2006)