Customer Review

6 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing in too many areas but at least now at bargain price!, 24 Feb 2012
This review is from: Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen (Audio CD)
When the Rheingold was released in 1980-in Digital Recorded Sound!-there was a flurry of excitement! The first stereo Ring release since the Boehm ( the Boulez appeared not long after this release but was not fully Digital)-and from East Germany-in Digital sound!! To add lustre, there was the prospect of the superb Dresden Staatskapelle orchestra, a cast comprising exciting newcomers and established stars, and if the conductor was largely unknown to us, so was Solti when HIS Rheingold was released in 1959.
To be fair, the initial promise was fulfilled to a degree with Das Rheingold, which features a superb Alberich in Nimsgern, beautiful Rhinemaidens, a surprisingly youthful sounding Wotan from Adam, imposing Giants, a stylish Loge from Schreier and a general all round good cast. There are reservations-the orchestra sounds a tad thin on the ground, brass was rather "blowsy" in the Slavic manner- the conducting established a swift but not rushed "non-interventionist "style, in all aspects. Die Walkure was a major disappointment when released, and remains so in my view. The recorded sound is boxy, and if the orchestra sounded undernourished occasionally in Rheingold, it appears to be playing on a shift rota basis in this recording.
Siegfried Jerusalem is a fine Siegmund, though he still struggled with top notes at this stage of his singing development, Norman blasts out mellifluous tone as Sieglinde, though sounds in no way vulnerable-but Adam's voice has developed an raggedness and waiver that it make unpleasant to endure, and Altmeyer's Brunnhilde is sung here and throughout the cycle in a remorseless Stentorian bellow, which though steely and secure is wearing to the ear and depressing to the spirit.
The big moments, such as the Walkurenritt, are an embarrassment, and the recording is thin. What interpretation Janowski attempts is misjudged.
Siegfried is better, certainly better recorded with, Kollo using his resources and technique to give us a fine Siegfried in all 3 acts. I feel that Peter Screier tries too hard with Mime-he sounds uncomfortable-but Adam is less taxed by the Wanderer's tessitura. Altmeyer's contribution is mercifully brief.
Gotterdammerung is depressing except in two remarkable performances-Salminen's Hagen and Hans Gunther-Nocker's extraordinary Gunther.
The Hagen's watch is so chilling in this performance that it is almost worth the price of the set alone. This was his first recorded Hagen, and although Matti Salminen can still deliver pretty much the same vocal quality today-he does not appear to have aged-this is his finest recorded assumption of the role. Similarly, this is a dark brooding Gunther, craving nobility but craven about how he achieves it, the finest assumption of the role since Uhde for Keilberth (especially in the 1953 Mono recording).
Altmeyer is relentless throughout, and the Immolation is tiresome instead of riveting, and she is not assisted by much ill-judged conducting by Janowski.
The orchestra sounds better, but the Gibichung Vassals don't make up a platoon, let alone an army.
This set is due to be re-issued at a modest cost, and there is the thought-"better this than no Ring at all!" However, the 1966 Bayreuth Boehm Ring is BETTER recorded, better sung and masterfully conducted, and is similarly priced in the UK than this set at time of writing and must count as first bargain choice, and for many first choice at any price!. There are fine passages and performances contained within this Dresden set, but the sum of its part is-mediocre. I have to acknowledge that there those who greatly admire this set, and respond to what I have described as Janowski's utilitarian style-" it gets the job done with functionality but not embellishment"-" and must emphasis that this is my opinion, though it is widely held. Where I am adamant is on sound quality which is frequently thin, edgy and boxy and even the live Baden Ring available for about 15 complete with libretti on Brilliant Classics is better recorded (and is remarkably fine) - It will be of interest for comparative purposes, but is unlikely to be many listener's favourite. I'm sorry to report that the first two instalments of Janowski's complete Wagner Operas project on Pentatone fare no better than this except in sound quality, and the third one, Parsifal has made me resolve to buy no further recordings in that series. Recommended only to avid collectors. Stewart Crowe
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 24 Jul 2012 19:52:47 BDT
I have recommended this in the past to Ring neophytes: I think the fact that Janowski is not a 'bit personality' conductor probably helps when you're coming to this music for the first time. It's not often I disagree with your reviews, Stewart, but I have to nail my colours to the mast here! If any opera house, or record company, were able to assemble a cast like this today, we'd all be applauding, even though I'm no fan of Adam's Wotan (once was enough)and it sometimes sounds like the engineers have 'beefed up' Altmeyer's Brunnhilde. And, for an early digital recording, this is not half bad!!

In reply to an earlier post on 25 Jul 2012 10:47:54 BDT
D. S. CROWE says:
Although I personally don't care for this Ring overall, I did give it 3 stars and went out of my way to point out that there are some fine moments, and good performances. I've deleted some of the abuse I got for daring to suggest that I found Janowski's conducting generally shapeless and dull!
I'm really glad you like it, and more power to those who do-I'm just not one of them! For me the Altmeyer problem is unrelenting ffff glare of her expressionless singing, as I hear it, and I'd almost rather have a wobble or 2 and more expression rather than the admittedly rock solid tone of Jeanine. I like Adam's Wotan for Bohm, and here his Rheingold Wotan is surprisingly fine in what is a really good Rheingold, but time had taken its toll by the time of Walkure (for me the worst of the 4 recordings in every way!), and the wobble is so pronounced at times it's impossible to distinguish individual notes.
If you ever get the chance, try to hear the 1963 Salome on Berlin Classics with the Dresdeners under Otmar Suitner-I've reviewed it.
The recording alone is worth it, and the playing is amazing (the singing, with 2 exceptions is less so, so don't spend a lot on it!)
Knocks this digital effort into a cocked hat.
I'm afraid Janowski's current Wagner cycle is just as dull, with some really awful singing throughout. You are right about the casting, it would be "golden" by today's standards.
Have you heard the Haenchen Ring? I'll get round to reviewing it eventually-when it's good, it's really good-when it's bad, it's diabolical!! Thus are most modern Wagner recordings!
Thanks as ever for your comments. Best Regards, Stewart.

Posted on 8 Jan 2013 13:01:14 GMT
Dag Kyndel says:
When this Ring first appeared it got bad reviews, especially concerning Altmeyer. Now almost all suddenly give it five stars! Explain that if you can...

In reply to an earlier post on 18 Jan 2013 12:18:05 GMT
D. S. CROWE says:
It's possibly an indication of how low standards and expectations have fallen, as compared to some of the new offerings of today, this is a paragon of excellence! However, as I'm sure you know, Gergiev's Walkure is due in Feb as the start of a new cycle, with a star cast including Nina Stemme! Here's hoping! Reviews in due course. As ever, S!

In reply to an earlier post on 18 Jan 2013 14:39:37 GMT
Last edited by the author on 18 Jan 2013 14:40:21 GMT
Dag Kyndel says:
Interesting - I think you are right! It's wonderful indeed that Giergiev will give us a Ring with top forces and Stemme at the hight of her powers! (And than we'll have Janowski's brand new Ring, I have no high expectations...)
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