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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Still the best recorded sound and despite some drawbacks, a good choice as a budget priced Ring well performed!, 22 Jan 2013
This review is from: Wagner (Audio CD)
The year 2013 being an anniversary year of the births of both Wagner and Verdi, the former composer is receiving a great deal of activity in terms of new releases and reissues, a process started in 2012 with the Pentatone Janowski series and the beautiful Solti presentation set and continuing with the glamorous reissue of the Janowski Dresden set remastered by Sony , the completion of the new Janowski series with the release of a new Ring, and a Gergiev Ring cycle under way to be completed in 2014. The Ring is the bedrock of any Wagner collection, and I propose to tackle this review primarily as my advice to a reader looking to buy their first or only cycle-and at the asking price this set is a candidate! There can be no doubting the prodigious musical talents of Barenboim, but he does not always convince me as a conductor, and I don't care for more of his recordings than I admire-but then the same applies to Solti, and I LOVE his Ring recordings! At its best, Barenboim's Wagner is superb as his Parsifal demonstrates, as does his Tristan to a lesser extent, and for much of this Ring he conducts with sensible tempi, excellent dramatic flow and balances the forces well-but on too many occasions he suddenly changes temp mid-bar, slows down for no apparent reason, whips the tempo up again.. and then continues sensibly! Some big moments-Siegfried's Funeral March for example, lack impact and are suddenly rushed through and this irritates me in particular-it's a trait he displays in his later Wagner recordings too-but overall it is a fine achievement and infinitely preferable to the perfunctory conducting of Janowski for example.
Technically this is the best recorded Ring of all, though that may well change when the SACD versions of forthcoming cycles appear. It is in a sense a hybrid recording, recorded on stage in Bayreuth during the 1991 Festival, not at live performances with an audience but during the filming of the cycle for initially Video then DVD release. By necessity each work is recorded in a single day during the annual festival, but this does allow for retakes and patching to a small extent. Thus we lose some of the drawbacks of live recording at Bayreuth-NO PROMPTER, no audience noise, no chattering stage crew, but we also get little of the frisson of the live performance. We DO get the stage noise-props, scenery and clumping feet and the shifting aural perspective particularly as singers move back into the deep recesses of the huge stage. The orchestral sound is dazzling-Barenboim achieves the best playing we've ever heard from the Festival-but the immediacy of the sound in no way represents a true Bayreuth experience. It is as if we are in the pit alongside Barenboim, with orchestral presence so tangible that one feels one could reach out and touch the musicians. I cite the Prelude to Act 2 of Siegfried as an example to be savoured. The voices are in an entirely different acoustic, with the acquisition of a gentle resonance not characteristic of this theatre. I think of this Ring as a Studio Recording with live effects, and so the tinkering with the sound picture does not bother me when the results are so spectacularly good- but purists be warned.
Casting and performances are as ever an issue, and obviously there is a high degree of personal preference involved. All hope of a cast to rival those of the 50's and 60's has long since been abandoned with regard to Bayreuth, and the best we CAN hope for today is that it's not too bad-but this cast fares better than that. It is so often the minor roles that disappoint-Bodo Brinkmann who sings both Donner and Gunther starts each phrase wonderfully and ends them with a pronounced wobble and is totally unable to sustain a legato, Linda Finnie ,an artist I admire but who is here a prosaic Fricka, the Woodbird is wobbly and unfocussed (this is criminal but commonplace!), Paul Kang has a fine Bass voice but his Fafner and worse his Hagen are totally devoid of expression, as if he is singing the text phonetically and has no clue as to what it means, and I`ve heard more mellifluous Norns and Rhinemaidens and better Valkyries-but none of this is terrible and in terms of modern expectations is pretty good-sadly.
Part of the problem is that any singer who is half decent in Wagner gets booked by every house world wide, so bookings have to be made years in advance and do not take into account the singer's vocal state at the performance date-and Bayreuth operates a "buggins' turn" system whereby loyal servants are eventually awarded plum roles regardless of talent.
In this cycle the main roles, with a few exceptions are good to very good.
Nadine Secunde is a squally and unfocussed Sieglinde partnered by a pretty decent if not brilliant Elming who has dry top notes and who palpably tires. Von Kannen is an excellent Alberich, a darker more cunning Nibelung, not in any way a comic turn gone bad and Grahame Clarke is a tour de force as Mime and Loge-simply superb. John Tomlinson divides opinion as Wotan-he is a full Bass, and struggles at times with the higher register. He barely squeaks through parts of Walkure, though he gives a fine Farewell and he rises well to the occasion in the climax of Rheingold, as does Barenboim it must be said.
He interprets well, and while he is not my ideal in this role, he ticks many of the boxes. He is a SUPERB Wanderer! Though he struggles with the legato at the top of the stave, his dramatic projection is excellent and he has the perfect timbre for the role, and in terms of the wobble he is no worse than Hotter. Svenden is a vibrant Erda, Waltraud Meier a luxury casting as Waltraute and other minor roles fare well. This leaves Siegfried and Brunnhilde, and I will not hesitate in stating that I have total admiration for both artists cast.
There is a"sniffiness" about Jerusalem in some quarters-"he's not a true Heldentenor, he's not Melchior blan blah"... What he IS, is a superbly dramatic, firm and steady voiced Siegfried who tires only marginally and sustains a firm and beautiful legato throughout. He was the Siegfried of his generation and ranks alongside Windgassen, possibly even surpassing him.
When this production premiered, Deborah Polaski was the Brunnhlde but she encountered difficultes and broke down in the first cycle, leading to accusations that Barenboim had miscast her and had effectively ruined her career. She did of course recover and still sings Brunnhilde today in her 60's.
She was replaced as a stopgap by Britain's own Anne Evans, whose smaller more lyrical voice is not ideal for this role-or so one might think until she starts singing.
She was triumph in the second cycle and retained the part throughout to tremendous acclaim, and her tireless, beautifully enunciated and utterly steady singing is both a joy-and relief. Of course, this is not the blazing tones of Nilsson's warrior goddess, but a far more human and humane reading, not lacking in drama. Evans uses her technique to superb effect-the finale of Siegfried is arguably the finest of the stereo era, the opening duet in Gotterdammerung is utterly thrilling, and the Immolation a triumph, though Barenboim makes some strange tempo choices!
When the set was released, the late Alan Blyth , a critic to respect, took the opportunity to name his ideal recorded Ring-he chose Solti for Rheingold, Furtwangler/VPO for Walkure, the Barenboim for Siegfried and Levine for Gotterdammerung-oh and Bohm for a complete Ring under one conductor.
I agree with his choices for Rheingold and Siegfried, though I would choose Leinsdorf for Walkure and back to Solti for Gotterdammerung, but for the set under review to get a first choice for any of its elements is no mean feat.
In sum, Rheingold is very fine, Walkure is a disappointment but not a disaster, Siegfried is superb and Gotterdammerung is very good, but has some let downs in performance. By today's standards this is grounds for 10 stars!
If you are looking for a Ring under £50 in cost, the first choice must still be Bohm, for many a first choice at ANY price-but if you want the extra brilliance of the digital recorded sound and thrilling engineered balance, this Ring becomes a real option. It's one I return to, and I've pretty well got them all (I think!). There are just too many below par performances for it be 5 stars, but it gets a worthy 4 not least for cost. Recommended. Stewart Crowe.
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Showing 1-10 of 14 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 22 Jan 2013 20:27:58 GMT
I only have six Ring cycles - I'm ashamed to say. And three of those are recent purchases! Thanks for the - very detailed - review, Stewart. I wish you had written your review earlier; as you know I ordered the Haitink/EMI Ring. Tomlinson, von Kannen, Meier are all highly accomplished Wagnerians, in my opinion. And Jerusalem's "Siegmunde" for Janowski was panned by the critics, but so what! I'm not familiar with Anne Evans' Wagner, but she sounds Altmeyer-ish! Lightweight and all that - I hope she shrieks rather less! And Paul Kang's - who he - "Hagen"... is it really that bad? Whatever, I'm not quite so particular regarding vocal inadequacies in the Ring - I bow down to your superior knowledge. Still, after reading your review, I think this will be superior to Haitink's recording. I've listened to Haitink's Rheingold... Best wishes.

In reply to an earlier post on 22 Jan 2013 20:53:05 GMT
Last edited by the author on 22 Jan 2013 20:53:49 GMT
Ralph Moore says:
Many thanks, Stewart, for, as ever, a knowledgeable, balanced and very detailed review which does little to convince me that I really want this "Ring" - apart from piquing a mild interest in me regarding the "Siegfried" - but I really cannot endure Tomlinson's bass in Wagner and have never warmed to Jerusalem, so it's back to Goodall and Remedios in English, the old Melchior with Bodansky conducting. Like Jeremy, I have six or seven complete sets - including the RAI Furtwängler, Kraus, Moralt, Solti, Böhm - the extended excerpts from the Gala and Pearl "potted Rings", individual "Gesamtkunstwerke" by Knappertsbusch, Karajan, Leinsdorf, Furtwängler, Goodall's "Götterdämmerung" excerpts in German with Rita Hunter, Klobucar, "Immortal Performances" et al - and I never see my doing anything other than picking and choosing amongst them, even though I think Kraus and Böhm come closest to "one set" recommendations.

In reply to an earlier post on 23 Jan 2013 12:57:20 GMT
D. S. CROWE says:
Ralph , I'm going to risk finding myself quoted in "Pseud's Corner", but while wholeheartedly agreeing with your point of view, we are of course connoisseurs of these works-in my case downright obsessive-and in a year where hopefully interest might be sparked in a whole new audience for recordings of The Ring, I sought to review it in that light. I was taking into account recording quality, and with the upcoming Janowski and Gergiev cycles in the offing and likely to be in excellent sound, I thought that I should belatedly extol the virtues and lack of same of this set.
I'll go further than you Ralph-I dodge from Act to Act in my choice of favourites. One of my favourite cycles is the MYTO 1951 Bayreuth Karajan, which is astonishing and in at least as good sound as the RAI Furtwangler.
However, these are recommendations for later when the listener has been cursed as we are by the search for perfection.
I DO like Jerusalem, always have, and I was lucky enough to experience his Siegfried in 1999 under Simone Young in Vienna (Polaski was Brunnhilde). He was SUPERB, as was Zednik as Mime. Deborah got through it.
By 1991, he had acquired the ringing top notes lacking in his Siegmund for Janowski, with thankfully little detriment to the more lyrical qualities of his voice. I'm no Tomlinson fan after this recording-this Ring destroyed his upper register through strain, He was Levine's casting in the next production and was subjected to the infamous Bayreuth Boo after each performance. I don't like his "Sprechgesang" Hagen, and his Bluebeard performances are largely barked-BUT-I have to say for much of this set his Wotan is very fine, and his Wanderer is superb.
Jeremy, you have not lost out by buying the Haitink, never fear, as there are as many joys in that set as this one-almost! Anne Evans is a SUPERB Brunnhilde-the best since Nilsson, with no shrieking, warm secure tone and heroic top notes. In the theatre, her voice was a bit small-balanced as it is here, she is a knockout and cannotbe mentioned in the same sentence as Altmeyer.
Paul Kang was not a graduate of the Bayreuth Rep- they love "ethnic" casting to keep up their post-war "PC" credentials-he was cast specifically by Danny Boy. He is a Korean, and has a rich, deep voice evincing a pure legato with no strain. He is however utterly expressionless, just as I describe, and this is a blight even on his minor but important contribution to Siegfried-BUT, which is better? Rydl on the Haenchen set as a terrifyingly menacing Hagen with a huge presence-and a wobble that could be measured on a Seismograph, or the expressionless smooth fluidity of Kang's rich tones?
The answer is course, Frick, Greindl or Salminen ! Kang is now a highly regarded Professor of Singing-unsurprisingly Kwangchul Young studied with him.
This last point covers both recent discussions-do you remember the RCA Special Edition Half Speed Mastered LP of the 1948 Carnegie Hall performance of Walkure Act One from "Ein Schwert...." through to the end with the NYPO under Toscanini-with Melchioir and Traubel?
I actually don't have this on CD-but I will soon if it's available! Even that late in his career , Melchior was magnificent!
Finally a Ring Cycle that EVERY Wagnerian should have is the Pristine Classics recording of the 1983 Solti Bayreuth Ring. It is utterly magnificent. All the negative hype around it is not manifested in the musical side-there are one or two orchestral fluffs, including sadly in the Funeral Music, but overall it is stunning. It's expensive-especially if like me you get stung for £28 Customs Duties (order them separately), but the stereo recording is of commercial quality. It's "A must hear!"
Thank you both for your kind and encouraging comments. As ever, S!

In reply to an earlier post on 23 Jan 2013 14:15:35 GMT
Stewart, as always, good to have your thoughts on this one. I'm just wondering what you think of the DVD, which - as far as I can make out - features the same performance as the CD? I would echo your feelings about Tomlinson. The DVD, I feel, also exposes his limitations as an actor, though this may have a lot to do with some of the things the production requires him to do. Otherwise, the cast is strong, though not everyone will warm to the minimalist production. There is a gap in the market, I'd say, for a Ring DVD that steers a middle course between the arch conservatism of Schenk/Levine and the radicalism of Chereau/Boulez. Unless you know of one, of course! Best, Wakefield 2011.

In reply to an earlier post on 23 Jan 2013 17:11:20 GMT
Last edited by the author on 24 Jan 2013 14:31:31 GMT
D. S. CROWE says:
Great to hear from you Wakefield. Actually I quite like the Kupfer staging-it's not too daft and has some spectacular moments, especially the laser effects for the Rhine.Inevitably it has some daft moments too, You are right that they are the films for which this was made as a soundtrack,unlike the Levine/Schenk and the Haenchen Netherlands productions which have greatly different casts on the films. I really like the Fura dels Baus Valencia production.Mehta directs reliably well and his Maazel trained orchestra is superb. The cast is also superb, I kid you not-Uusitala, Lance Ryan , Jennifer Wilson and the Immortal Salminen as Hagen to name but a few .
Visually it is stunning-sometimes infuriatingly daft but NEVER dull and it sounds and looks beautiful on Bluray. If they released a sound recording I'd buy it, it's that good.
The opening of Rheingold is breathtaking and there other high points.There is really only the new Met production under Levine and Lusi-it's quite good visually, in fact that's its strength. Vocally and in Lusi it's a let down. That would be my recommendation and I'll say this- I don't much care for filmed opera but I return to the Fura production regularly. Stay away from the Rattle Walkure- it's dire! I hope this helps and once again, great to hear from you. As ever, Stewart.

In reply to an earlier post on 24 Jan 2013 15:40:26 GMT
That RCA Toscanini Walkure/Act One - it was available on "Special Order", if memory serves? And I'd imagine that it's highly collectable and expensive. Melchior possessed a remarkably beautiful voice - a true Heldentenor - and I expect the performance will be "intense", not least due to Toscanini's inclination for brisk tempi. I don't believe that it has received a compact disc release. It is hard to believe nowadays, but orders for classical records/LPs would often take weeks to arrive... even CDs in the early eighties!

A Korean "Hagen"... very exotic. Well, I don't want to upset the "PC" crowd, but Orientals tend not to have the sheer depth of tone and power of voice when compared to us Occidentals. Big, lumbering giants that we are! Of course, vocal training will counter this natural lightness of tone, I expect? And I do not doubt for one moment that Paul Kang is more than capable... if he's good enough for Bayreuth... and as you say, Stewart, he has a rich, deep, voice, etc. However, his delivery is expressionless - I'll take your word for it - and one must fully understand the German language in order to communicate effectively Wagner's message. One must know why Hagen acts as he does and this is conveyed by the tiniest inflexions which convey the psychology behind the words. The Ring is rich in symbolism and allegory, with a rich subtext... I better save some material for a - Haitink - review!

The Pristine Classics Solti/Ring... I had no idea of its existence! Ralph often mentions Pristine recordings as being outstanding in technical terms - sound quality, that is. Thank you, Stewart, for bringing it to my attention. Solti at Bayreuth, in 1983! One wonders how - and if - the passage of time altered his view of the work? Was he able to cope without the expert guidance of "Miracle Worker" Culshaw? So poor is my knowledge of recent reissues and remasterings of classic recordings that I'm almost tempted to subscribe to, ermm, THAT magazine. Of course, this is absolutely unnecessary, thanks to the vast reservoir of knowledge on display. Thank you, Stewart... and Ralph, naturally. I also own the Goodall/Rita Hunter "Gotterdammerung" recording - on vinyl - and I'm considering Goodall's EMI Parsifal...

In reply to an earlier post on 24 Jan 2013 16:54:43 GMT
Last edited by the author on 24 Jan 2013 16:56:25 GMT
D. S. CROWE says:
Jeremy-Tosanini was in fact quite measured in the Carnegie recital-don't forget he had the record at Bayreuth for the SLOWEST Parsifal ever (I think Barenboim just pipped him on the one occasion fe deputised for an indisposed Levine and when the music nearly ceased to be music, just sound)!
You are right it's not available-I've looked everywhere!
I wish I'd kept the LP!
If there were ever any doubt about the greatness of Solti as a Wagnerian, they are dispelled by the magnificence of his reading of the Ring in 1983. It is so good it brings tears of joy to my eyes. Manfred Jung is just SUPERB as Siegfried and Behrens soars as Brunnhilde-she is in as good a voice as for her Salome. Peter Haage is the Mime (as for Haitink) and Aage Haugland is Hagen as for Goodall. Nimsgern is a fine Wotan , and Bent Norup a wonderfully lyrical Wanderer. It's just GREAT-try Siegfried and Gotterdammerung first-Helmut at Pristine carries the finale of Siegfried Act 3 over to Gotterdammerung set to minimise cost-presentation beautiful, technically stunning.
Now that all the flak over Peter Hall's extravagance in the stage production which claimed Solti as a victim has passed, a sane assessment of the music can be made and its the best conduced Ring I've ever heard-and as you know, I'm no Solti devotee-but this is special. Well worth the oulay but buy separately or you'll cop for customs duty-like me! Oh, don't get me started, this post'll never end! I look forward to your Haitink review! Best Regards As Ever, S!

In reply to an earlier post on 24 Jan 2013 21:06:21 GMT
Toscanini, the slowest... not Knappertsbusch? I wish I'd bought the Toscanini/Walkure LP! I have searched high and low for this Pimpernel-like Pristine Solti/Ring - can't find it! Well, not on the Amazon UK site. It's an American release, I take it? I'll visit the American site... I dread seeing the price!

Behrens was a wickedly beautiful Salome for Karajan so her Brunnhilde will certainly possess the "vulnerability" which many Amazon Wagnerians seem to crave. I still see Brunnhilde as a stahlhelm-wearing warrior princess with a will of iron, but I'm certain that I'll mature, eventually. Nilsson is supreme...but Behrens has qualities which even she can't match. Of course, Nilsson's Salome for Solti is magnificent. The deranged, impish, nubile nymphet may well be of more, ermm, matronly stature and positively certifiable, but this adds to the horror and decadence - highly appropriate. Thanks for the info, Stewart. Best wishes.

In reply to an earlier post on 24 Jan 2013 22:19:30 GMT
D. S. CROWE says:
I am gong senile. the Solti Ring is from Celestial Audio, not Pristine, but neither are available other than direct. Pristine are made from LP, Celestial from Radio Broadcasts. The Ring is from BR Tapes which were digital stereo even in 1983.Sorry about the confusion. Levine was MUCH slower than Kna as you can hear from his Bayreuth recording,if you dare, but Toscanini held the record till then. be warned- you will be tempted to order the entire Celestial catalogue, and it's huge. both HIGHLY recommended. as ever, Stewart ( I think)

Posted on 29 Jan 2014 18:28:43 GMT
Interesting review. Regarding Deborah Polaski as Brunnhilde at Bayreuth in 1988, I think the difficulty was the challenge of taking on all three Brunnhilde roles in the same year (Walkure, Siegfried, Gotterdammerung). I'm listening to the radio broadcasts at the moment - what should I be listening out for in respect of these difficulties and breakdown? Apart from some tentative phrases I hear some beautiful singing and enunciation, better than some I could mention. This performance (1988) was Daniel Barenboim's first Ring apparently. Agreed, Siegfried Jerusalem is great (he sang just in Siegfried in 1988) always a pleasure to hear!
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