on 20 July 2013
When I noticed this disc had been released I ordered it like a shot. Shortly before this Vienna performance in 2007 there was a new production of 'Walkure' in Naples at the San Carlo. The name "Nina Stemme" on the posters as Sieglinde at that time meant nothing to me, I regret to say. Sharing my box happened to be three of The Society of Friends of Bayreuth and before the curtain went up they said, "Watch out for Nina Stemme!"
I didn't have to. When Nina Stemme opened her mouth my jaw dropped. This was a gorgeous voice- fresh, golden, round, warm -and powerful. She reminded me of the first marvellous Sieglinde I heard, Gwyneth Jones in her prime. And Stemme's gentle impersonation of the part was touching.
This new cd is remarkable evidence of Nina Stemme's Sieglinde, however if anything Ms.Stemme's big voice sounds even more beautiful live in the theatre than it does in this recording. She performs Sieglinde with passionate commitment and radiant tone.
In this Vienna performance Johan Botha as Siegmund and Ain Anger as Hunding are both outstanding. Anger is truly stunning -there is nothing morose about this Hunding, as there sometimes can be. He is menacing, but sexy and vitally aware, and here his relationship with Sieglinde makes sense. This is a magnificent voice, very effectively used.
It's wonderful (and rare) to hear a Siegmund fully up to the part, as Johan Botha clearly is. This is not 'chamber Wagner' in any sense, this is a big, baritonal, thrilling sound in the 'heldentenor' tradition. The voice is well-supported, with agility and remarkable range, and Botha is capable of slicing through the orchestra with heroic clarity. His energy here is sometimes astonishing- just listen to "Walse!"
The conductor Franz Welser-Most has a sensitive approach to this unforgettable music. For example the exquisite cello solo, as Sieglinde offers a drink to the exhausted Siegmund, is beautifully shaped. Welser-Most reveals some fresh insights -the climax of the Prelude becomes a shriek of terror in a way which this reviewer at least, hasn't heard before.
The Vienna audience gives these artists a huge ovation at the conclusion of this Act. And so say all of us ! With singers like these it is evident we can still experience a heroic Wagnerian sound -in the opera house and not just the recording-studio. (Let's hope these artists are taking care of their vocal resources!)
Beautiful orchestral playing, excellent conducting, first rate sound for a live performance - that leaves only the question of the singers, and they are as good as you may generally hear today unless you are lucky enough to get Jonas Kaufmann as Siegmund.
Neither lead singer seems to me to be amongst the very best I've heard, however: both have more of an incipient wobble in their vibratos than is ideal for the Wagner singer who needs to maintain complete steadiness of line at often punishing volume, intensity and tessitura. I am always conscious of the beginnings of a bleat when they are under pressure. Nor does Botha have the baritonal heft the role requires; no wonder Ramon Vinay, who was both baritone and tenor in his glorious career, was the ideal Siegmund. Still, Stemme is pretty vibrant, committed and thrilling in her "Der Männer Sippe", which is the best passage in this performance. The Hunding is a bit gruff but perfectly adequate; the main thing is the dramatic thrust of the music in what is surely the best Act in all Wagner. It's hard to shake off memories of old classic versions from Walter, Karajan and Leinsdorf; I find that in particular Melchior's and Vickers' voices have etched themselves into my memory but it's curmudgeonly not to welcome good, modern, live performance such as this.
This was part of a recording project aborted because of the indisposition of the Wotan, so we have only this Act from the 2007 performance directed by Welser-Möst.
I have already provided a brief scenario of the convoluted politics surrounding the release of the DG recording of the 2011 Ring from Vienna under Thielemann in my review of the set. In its on/off release was a source of speculation-generally that either Franz Welser-Most had vetoed it in his capacity as Music Director, or that Thielemann had vetoed because it had too many flaws. Even Austrian Radio was reluctant to broadcast it!
Both camps strenuously denied the rumours, and as we know it did finally appear, deeply flawed but with its strengths too.
Hot on its heels, we now have a taster from Orfeo of FWM's 2007 performance of what was then a new production-and what a fizzing, exciting account of Walkure Act One it is! It was his conducting of this cycle that in no small way contributed to his "coming up on the rails" to succeed the ailing Ozawa whose flaccid tenure was coming to an end, when Thielemann had been the favourite. On this brief snapshot, one can see why.
The recorded sound, re-mastered from DDD Austrian Radio Master Tapes is superb-actually preferable to that by DG in that it is more sense of air, more sheen and provides a more accurate impression of what its like to be in the house.
FWM proves yet again to be a highly accomplished Wagnerian. In this act he conducts with the luminosity of Karajan-some of the chamber-like effects are breathtaking-but with the drive and energy of Leinsdorf. This is no mean feat!
The opening prelude whips along at a pace Usain Bolt would find difficult to sustain, and he never allows the music to stagnate, while shaping it exquisitely. The orchestra play with absolute assurety, ravishing tone and tremendous weight when FWM allows it. The deep brass-bass trombone and tuba-growl with a real snarl, and the high brass in the sword motif are thrilling-and impeccable. The strings and woodwind are ravishing, and there is great detail revealed in the recording. Playing, conducting and recording are a triumph!
The singing, if not quite the best we've ever heard, is the best for a long time where Kaufmann is not involved!
Johan Botha's debut here as Siegmund is a major success. His open throated clear voiced Siegmund is streets ahead of Ventris in this role, and he just lacks the last vestige of darker baritonal quality in his voice to be ideal.
His lyrical singing is beautifully mellifluous, his cries of Wälse are thrilling enough, and though one can hear him winding himself up to sustain the final "Wälsungeblut", he brings it off magnificently.
Ain Anger is a dark, firmed voice Hunding who starts off brooding and quietly menacing and builds up to become an imposing threat indeed.
He doesn't quite match the power and menace of Frick or Salminen, but it is a very fine assumption.
The main focus for the promotion of this disc is Nina Stemme's debut as Sieglinde.
In 2007 she was at her peak of course, so I had hoped her Sieglinde would be excellent. It's not excellent-it's utterly superb!
Like Varnay on the second cycle recording of the Keilberth Ring, this Sieglinde is no down-trodden victim waiting for rescue.
This is a Sieglinde simmering with restrained passion, disdainful of the husband forced upon her, and radiant of emotion when she recognises the true object of her desires in Siegmund.
There is no more assured Sieglinde on record-Stemme does not have the limpid beauty of Crespin or Janowitz, but she compensates for this with truly thrilling passionate singing in an interpretation that is worth the cost of the set alone!
The presentation is beautiful, other than a photograph of FWM that makes him look like a nerd with no friends-and of course, in true Orfeo fashion, there is no libretto. However, I cannot imagine that this disc will be bought by anyone other than those who already have a libretto or 10!
Its release poses some questions-where's the rest of it?
Why release only this tantalising snippet? We may one day get to learn of the politics-Vienna strikes again!
I'm happy to assert that it's the best Walkure Act One since the era of Solti, Bohm and Karajan- Gergiev and Kaufmann notwithstanding, as it is so much better played and conducted.
Fans of any of these artists need not hesitate-and diehard Wagnerians are in for a treat- but it is cruelly tantalising. So much better than Thielemann! 5 Stars. Stewart Crowe.
on 1 December 2013
I chose this disc because I was interested to hear what the conductor and soloists would make of it. Nina Stemme sings Wagner every where these days, as does Johan Botha. Both sound fresher than I've heard them before,. but the standards for this Act of Die Walküre are so high that I feel they have some way to go. As does Welser-Möst. The prelude to Act 1 goes faster than Usain Bolt could run and is in consequence very disappointing. He can (I hope !) only improve.
Sound quality is very good.