Customer Review

20 of 28 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Bargain Box of Variable Qualty, 9 Nov 2011
This review is from: The Complete Operas (Audio CD)
Three and a half stars!This set is an undoubted bargain compared to the cost of buying these recordings separately, and at the moment is the only option for those wanting digital sound for each work under one conductor-the ongoing Janowski Pentatone set will provide a rival in that regard. However, if performance is important to you, I have to assert that it is unlikely that you would want to buy all these recordings. There is one superb performance, one very fine , a variable Ring cycle and the rest are really not recommendable at all.
The Parsifal is one of the very finest available, often "falling under the radar" so to speak in comparison to the usual suspects of Knappertsbusch, Kubelik, Karajan and Solti, but it deserves to be included in this exalted group and ranks as the finest achievement in this set. The recording is superb, in the warm acoustic of the Jesus Christus Kirche in Dahlem , the cast is as fine as any and Barenboim conducts a thoroughly convincing performance. The Tristan is also very fine, though slightly less exalted than the Parsifal. There is certainly no lack of sensuous sound, but something a little lacking in the performances of Jerusalem and Meier.
The Ring is a veritable curate's egg. Recorded in Bayreuth during filming without an audience but with all the attendant stage noise, it has a completely artificially engineered acoustic and balance, with a resonant acoustic for the singers not found in Bayreuth, and the orchestra really "in your face" with resplendent forward brass again not found in Bayreuth. Does this matter?-possibly not when the resultant sonic impact and the detail is as strong as it is here, with genuinely breathtaking weight of sound at times-the prelude to Act 2 of Siegfried is stunning for example- but this does not compensate for some serious casting failures and inexplicable interpretative gestures from Barenboim. Siegfried is the undoubted highlight, but even this is nearly spoiled by Paul Kang's uninvolved Fafner and a squally Woodbird .
Kang's Hagen is even less involved, just one of a number of highly disappointing performances in the cycle.
There are many fine moments in this Ring, but too many that are anything but.
The Meistersinger is poorly recorded, conducted and sung. The Tannhauser, which I have reviewed elsewhere, has its strengths but again several weaknesses, the Lohengrin has the virtue of including the whole score-no cuts at all-but beyond that has few redeeming virtues (if the restored cuts can be classed as virtues!), and the Hollander is more or less of the same standard.
It would not however be possible to obtain this Wagner canon in decent sound "piecemeal" for anything approaching the cost of this bargain box, so for anyone on a limited budget, this is certainly an acceptable proposition, and will at least give a good flavour of all the works. I would not recommend it as a set on any other terms, and if a compendium of recordings by one conductor is the criterion, then I would advise the two Solti boxes, though at considerably more cost. Otherwise, with the possible exception of Parsifal, and maybe Tristan, all of these works can be heard to better advantage in other recordings. Three and a half stars for what is nonetheless all events a bargain priced set.
Stewart Crowe.
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Tracked by 3 customers

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Showing 11-20 of 29 posts in this discussion
In reply to an earlier post on 20 Nov 2011 12:54:07 GMT
At the "extremely discounted" price, Stewart, I'd say that it's worth a punt - how "extreme" the price reduction, one wonders? Do let us know, Octave.

In reply to an earlier post on 20 Nov 2011 18:20:22 GMT
Last edited by the author on 20 Nov 2011 18:21:15 GMT
Octave says:
Thanks for the thoughtful input, all; I didn't actually mean to stir controversy---ai!---but I _was_ keen to understand some of the possible views on Barenboim's work in light of this particular collection. I don't know how explicitly we can name the competition here, but I'd seen a brand new set for around US~$65, though I missed that bargain I think. Today (20 Nov) seems to be the last day of a DeepDiscount sale in which the box is US$75, which is still amazing compared to the going UK rate of ~120+ or its equivalent for Amazon US. But I hate to even bring that up, because wild impulse buying is probably a bad way to go, for an addict like myself; and I understand the problem of "value": do inferior performances/recordings really get any better by getting cheaper? Well....depends what one means by "inferior"; taste is used as both shibboleth and cudgel, frequently enough in class/ical music, but that doesn't change the feeling I get when I hear too much made of value, i.e. the sound of special-pleading: "These aren't really the best you can get, but what a bargain!" Or better, the old joke/complaint: "This food is so bad! And the portions are so small!" But I digress. I do thank everybody for their input here! I'm still such a beginner that my head reels at the array of options.

In reply to an earlier post on 20 Nov 2011 22:04:56 GMT
Last edited by the author on 20 Nov 2011 22:08:07 GMT
Octave, I have just purchased Boulez's Parsifal/DG for the princely sum of 13, plus a few pence - I tracked the recording for a while on the Amazon site and when the price dropped from 31+ I pounced on my quarry and bagged a bargain, as they say! Whether or not this recording/perfomance is inferior to my Karajan, Knappertsbusch or Solti sets is irrelevant; it offers a contrast to the other recordings which however "superior" they might be can become rather stale with repeated listening. No Wagnerian would want to attend the same performance/concert every single night - they do say that variety is the spice of life! I am no great admirer of Boulez; however, at the price I paid only a fool would let prejudice and professional reviewers' negative opinions deny themselves another Parsifal!

Seventy-five US dollars? My advice - buy it, NOW! And impulse purchases are no bad thing, Octave. In my thirty-plus years of collecting I have made many purchases which disappointed initially, only to have them become my most treasured possessions upon familiarization. Good luck!

In reply to an earlier post on 21 Nov 2011 13:08:22 GMT
Last edited by the author on 21 Nov 2011 13:10:57 GMT
D. S. CROWE says:
Dear Octave-hopefully this will clear your head somewhat. I paid more than $75 equivalent in 1991 when I bought the Parsifal, which IS superb on all counts, and which I listen to regularly (along with others). The Tristan was the same-and it is very fine with again sumptuous sound and a fine reading by DB-arguably the best sung of all (I don't care for the Domingo/Pappano much) and only just lacking a little emotion at times to stop it being a full 5 stars in my book. These sets have not been available so far at mid-price. Ergo everyting else in this box is a bonus, for good or ill, and there is much of both to be found in the remaining sets. Casting is a big problem with the Ring etc., though the Siegfried is still probably the best there is despite the uninvolved Fafner and wobbly woodbird-you'd think that Barenboim and Bayreuth would ensure that such a seminal moment in this work would have a superb vocal performance to match it, but alas NO! Nevertheless, it's a great recording in overwhelming sound such as cannot be heard in Bayreuth!
There you go-that's MORE than the cost of the set covered-3 times in fact-and you can make your mind up at leisure as to what you do and don't like about the remaining recordings. I still dip into them-especially the semi-Dresden Tannhauser, though I have to avoid Eaglen, and Struckmann's Hollander is superb too.If I didn't already have this set bought individually and at full price, I'd certainly buy it for comparison purposes.
At $75 it's a steal-go for it!! Best Regards, Stewart.

In reply to an earlier post on 21 Nov 2011 15:08:17 GMT
Last edited by the author on 21 Nov 2011 15:09:33 GMT
D. S. CROWE says:
Hi Jeremy-No recorded Parsifal is better sung than the Boulez-talk about "Rolls Royce" , or Dream casting! The playing too has a beautiful incandescence,and as ever with Boulez , great transparency, and the recording still "scrubs up well." Interpretatively it's a nightmare, with -it seems to me -Boulez chosing perversely inappropriate tempi just to shock-he was at the height of his most "terrible" as an "enfant terrible" phase. Illuminating to hear it, and at 13 odd it should be compulsory for all lovers of the work, because, despite Boulez's attentions, it still has some sublime moments. Enjoy! Best Regards, Stewart.

In reply to an earlier post on 21 Nov 2011 19:30:00 GMT
[Deleted by the author on 19 Apr 2012 07:34:57 BDT]

In reply to an earlier post on 21 Nov 2011 22:02:45 GMT
Octave says:
Reading up a tiny bit on Barenboim's life---for the first time, the other day---it seems that maybe he participated in Markevitch's conducting classes starting at age 12! Is this crazy? Wikipedia is my source, though; I haven't gone any further than that. Thanks again to Stewart, Jeremy, and Ralph for opinions. I think 2012 (fittingly!) will be a year of Wagner for me. There are several relevant books of interest that I have been meaning to check out anyway, and it would be silly to read those without grounding myself in the music, which is what should endure more than the cosmological baggage, anyway.

In reply to an earlier post on 22 Nov 2011 10:55:02 GMT
Last edited by the author on 22 Nov 2011 10:56:21 GMT
D. S. CROWE says:
Dear Jeremy and Octave-the elderly relative is right, and Barenboim WAS a child prodigy. I rarely listen to the Kna Parsifal because I cannot take Hotter wobbling and his struggle to maintain a legato TOTALLy distracts me from listening to the music-much the same with Tomlinson in the DB ring. I find Crass to be superb, and King at least the equal of Thomas-it's Boulez that's the problem! Octave-For God's Sake don't bother with Robert Donington's "Wagner'S Ring and Its Symbols"-psychobabble rubbish only for the truly sad and long discredited-see if you can find Burnett James's excellent biography/commentary-oh, and avoid Norman Lebrecht! Good Reading and Listening! Best Regards, Stewart.

In reply to an earlier post on 22 Nov 2011 13:41:08 GMT
Books? Ronald Taylor's "Richard Wagner: His Life Art and Thought" is an exceptionally good read, as is the much more recent and contentious "Wagner" by Michael Tanner. AVOID Robert Gutman's Wagner biog - bogus and biased, to say the least! The best introduction to Wagner appreciation remains, in my opinion, Barry Millington's Wagner biography - start there, Octave. Regards, Jeremy.

In reply to an earlier post on 22 Nov 2011 16:42:05 GMT
Octave says:
Thanks for book rcommendations, Jeremy and Stewart, cheers

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