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A depressing illustration of current standards and a sad end to at least one career-5 stars? Not hardly!
on 2 November 2012
At the time of writing there are 2 brief reviews awarding this 2 disc set 5 stars. Not only do I find this astonishing, but I'm perplexed as to whom this set proposes to attract. Granted that there are fans of "bleeding chunks" of the Ring rather than the whole edifice, and there are those who admire several of the artists involved, but I don't think many of either group will be satisfied with this collection for a variety of reasons, some of them rather sad. One obvious constituency is those who attended the performances, either at the Met or at one of the cinema broadcasts-but they are comparatively few.
The first basic reason is that with a few exceptions, these are not extracts but snippets, some lasting less than 2 minutes-and in the extracts of longer duration, there is not always much to be admired.
The Rheingold extracts are downright irritating they are so brief, until we get to Heda! Heda Hedo! through to the end of the opera. The prelude is excellent as are the Rhinemaidens and Alberich, but Terfel's voice has deteriorated alarmingly, with an uncontrolled vibrato frequently forcing him off pitch. There is an interesting sounding Loge-briefly-and when Donner's hammer strikes, it sounds like he's hit the bell at a fairground "test your strength by ringing the bell" contraption. It's beautifully played and recorded, Levine is excellent but it is all so disjointedly brief and unsatisfying. Walkure fairs better-we get "Wintersturme " through to the end of Act One, swiftly played and well sung by Kaufmann-though I've heard him better-and with a pretty good Sieglinde from Westbroek. Kaufmann brings the house down with his final "Walsungen Blut ". He and the orchestra are not always together, and he has to play "catch up" a couple of times.
We then get a very fast, very brief intro to Act 2-not brief enough I'm afraid.
Terfel is better in 2011 than for Rheingold a year earlier, though he chokes and strains on the final notes of the Feuerzauber, but we are in real trouble as soon as Voight enters. Her voice has basically-gone! She produces a nasal caterwauling that is tragic to hear from this great singer who has thrilled and delighted so often in the past. It is no coincidence that her appearances on this set are brief. We do get the final scene complete, but Terfel is no better than OK-ish-and he did it much better for Abbado on his extracts disc with the Berlin Phil.
The sad elements are that this is likely to be the Swansong of James Levine, certainly in Wagner, as he is beset by health problems, and a deep sadness in hearing once great artists such as Terfel and in particular Voight deteriorating so badly-yet still being cast by the Met!
The Siegfried and Gotterdammerung extracts are also ridiculous-brief snippets of the Forging Song and Forest Murmurs well enough sung particularly by the "stand-in" Siegfried replacing Gary Lehman (thank goodness!),though he sounds uncomfortably like Mime, a "chopped " Hagen's watch leading into a snippet again from the Chorus of Vassals without Hagen's HoiHo, with even the magnificent Koenig sounding tired and a bit grainy!. Pointless. Siegfried's Death scene is complete, but ruined by some really ungainly gulping and straining from Morris's Siegfried, undermining this sublime passage.
The Funeral Music and the very end of a strangulated Immolation are swiftly breezed through under the unidiomatic baton of Fabio Lusi.
The orchestral sound is great, but precision is often lacking. Levine's breathless "Walkurenritt" is well sung, but as elsewhere catches the orchestra out.
There is not a single track on this collection to which I would willingly return, and here is the final barb-I WAS at a performance of Walkure at the Met in 2011-and though the experience itself was great and memorable, the performance was not, and this is all too sad a reminder of that!
I cannot imagine anyone wanting this particular selection of snippets and extracts, but such are standards today that there will be some who think this is great Wagner singing. I'm not one of them. A sad ending to James Levine's recording career, an artist for whom I have utmost admiration and a depressing situation with Voight in particular-it tells you a lot about a Ring when the least featured character is Brunnhilde! I think 2 stars is the right award, but because the snippets of Rheingold in particular, Terfel excepted, are so well sung and played, such as they are, I'll award a generous 3 stars! I hope others will enjoy this more than I have! Stewart Crowe.