I have great admiration for the recordings released by OEHMS, and treasure many of their past and recent releases. I could only applaud when I discovered that they were releasing not one but two live Ring cycles more or less simultaneously, though my wallet groaned as I fear I am a Flying Dutchman-like figure doomed forever to buy every Wagner complete opera set!
The Simone Young Hamburg set started famously-I gave a glowing review to the superb Rheingold-but I fear that it has been a steep downward slope since then, and the problem is pretty much the same as with the Thielemann Ring-superb even visionary conducting throughout the cycle, wonderful playing from the orchestra, all so beautifully recorded-and after Rheingold, with a few exceptions, singing which can only be described as depressing.
For the work in hand, this is a veteran's performance-all 3 major roles are sung by artists well past their best, and in some cases their best was never very good. I'm not going to single out Polaski, Franz or Tomlinson for specific shaming-let us just say that collectively, they are awful. Even Petra Lang, an artist I have so admired, lacks sheen in her voice, though she is not in the same lower league as the aforementioned trio.
Wolfgang Koch in his brief appearance as Alberich continues to delight-clearly the best in this role since Neidlinger, the highest praise I can bestow, and the Gibichungs are passable, but that is not enough to rescue the situation.
It really pains me to write this, for I have such admiration for Simone Young's inspired conducting-every tempo is so "right", every dramatic climax perfectly taken-and the Hamburg Orchestra covers itself in glory-it sounds so "right"-that word again!
As with the Thielemann, I cannot foresee that many will be happy to buy this recording just to experience the conducting and playing, especially when there are so many fine alternatives, mostly cheaper.
If you want a taste of this Ring, then Rheingold is definitely worth adding to any collection-beyond that, the remaining works go in sequence from disappointing to poor to very poor.
The Weigle Frankfurt Ring also from OEHMS, now up to Walkure, started with a mediocre Rheingold which I have also reviewed but has progressed to a surprisingly decent Walkure, not least of all because of a spirited Brunnhilde from Susan Bullock.
If the Hamburg Ring is eventually released in a single Bargain Box, devotees of this work may well feel tempted-and there IS enjoyment in each work, just not enough to pay full price in the face of such exalted alternatives.
The stars reflect the whole cycle-6 stars for orchestra and conductors-3 stars deducted for overall quality of singing-I star deducted for cost. Total stars-2 only I fear. Stewart Crowe