on 12 May 2012
I've spent more than forty years listening to the Ring - on stage and on record, and for almost all of that time my benchmark was the Solti on Decca, and Karajan's on DG. But of course from time to time I had to listen to this or that act from the Karl Bohm Bayreuth performances, and once or twice to the Clemens Krauss. It's now time to try something different - something engaging, brilliantly recorded,and this is it. I've had Rheingold from this set for years, but somehow hardly ever played it until recently. I was so impressed I bought the whole set. Certainly, Donner's hammer blow on the rock is - yes - feeble compared to the Solti, but otherwise it stands comparison.
The sound quality of this set sets it apart. On a very good hi-fi system - which I'm lucky enough to have - this comes closest to the sound you'd hear in the opera house. I think people forget how different the two really are: no matter how good your hi-fi, the live sound offers clarity and complexity that is unmatched by even the best home systems. So much so, that we now look to the sound engineer to create a quite different experience. For instance, you'd never be so close to the orchestra and/or the stage to replicate the audible experience of, say, the collapse of the Gibichung Hall as in the Solti. This set gives you back the theatre by sheer technical brilliance. There are dozens of examples.
All right, there's no Nilsson, or Windgassen. But this is a set where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Alberich, in any case, is near-perfect: at last there's a recorded version of the "Dream" scene with Hagen, where Alberich's last words are exactly as they're supposed to be - that final whispered "Treu" as he slinks into the darkness. Wonderful! A small moment, no more than a second - but telling. Mime is good, occasionally very good. Rene Kollo has never sounded better, and Kurt Moll is as scary a Hunding as you'll ever hear, and Matti Salminen as evil as Hagen gets: those last two words of Hagen's Watch will send shivers up your spine. And just for good measure, there's Lucia Popp as a Rhinedaughter and Cheryl Studer as a Valkyrie.
And Altmeyer as Brunnhilde? She's not Nilsson - who is? She doesn't even have the power and emotional intensity of Helga Dernesch. This is a lighter, sweeter Brunnhilde: and it works absolutely fine. Her voice is always steady (how often can you say that?), and at no time did I feel that this wasn't Brunnhilde. As for the supposed American accent, well, I can't detect it - but then since her diction isn't that precise sometimes, that's probably the reason. But isn't that a serious flaw? Not with this set, since - and once again I compare it with a live performance - there is so much to enjoy from the orchestra that this hardly matters.
This is the Staatskapelle at its best - and yes, this was indeed "Wagner's Orchestra". Apart from all those set pieces - a terrific "Ride", an electrifying Funeral Music - there are all those wonderful Wagnerian transitions - for example from the end of Siegfried's Funeral Music into the scene with Gutrune - which are all handled quite, quite beautifully. And if there's a better recording of that dark, atmospheric opening scene of "Siegfried", I haven't heard it. Wagner's orchestra, indeed.
This costs twenty-five quid. Two half-decent bottles of wine bought in Waitrose on a Friday and gone by Monday. My advice is that absolutely everyone - newcomer to Wagner or old hand - should bite their hand off before they realise they've made a mistake and treble the price - when it would still be cheap.
This is my Ring for the future. I can't listen to Solti for ever and a day: there are other joys waiting. This is one of them.
on 26 February 2012
You'll never hear a perfect RING. There are just too many variables, options, and difficulties, plus it's an organic entity that takes 15+ hours to stage. So the law of averages automatically kicks in: when you've got more things that can go wrong, more will.
And so it is with its multitudinous recordings. Among the live versions, the earlier ones (Furtwaengler, Krauss, Knappertsbusch) suffer from murky sound, while even those in decent stereo (Keilberth, Boehm, Sawallisch, Barenboim) feature thuds, clunks, and assorted live-performance anomalies that grow less endearing with every listening. As for the studio recordings, they're variously undermined by continuity problems (Solti, Karajan), subpar singing (Swarowsky), or deficiencies in tension and energy (Levine, Haitink).
Which brings us to this Marek Janowski set. I first reviewed it for Amazon.com in February 2005, and I'm now updating that review. One of the great unheralded achievements of the waning LP era, Janowski's was the first all-digital RING, recorded in just 2½ efficient years during the early 80s. Later that decade it was the first version to debut on CD, at the top of the 90s a mid-price edition emerged, then a dirt-cheap reissue marked its first appearance in the 21st century ... and finally here it is again, pricewise an even more astonishing bargain. After several return visits down through the years, I'm ready to call it the cycle with the fewest things wrong and the most right.
First off, it's registered in clean, ungussied digital stereo of exceptional radiance and lucidity - massed strings can be a tad opaque, hinting at its pioneer status, otherwise the color and fine detail are ravishing, plus the whole event has the definite feel of being recorded in long takes: it offers the commitment and intensity of a live performance minus the wrong notes and stage noises. Second, it showcases lithe, athletic playing from Dresden's underpublicized but authentically great orchestra - strings turn on a dime, woodwind staccati are needle sharp, brass are lean and subtly integrated. In contrast to their only continental peers in this repertory - the Vienna PO with its creamy sweetness and the Berlin PO with its iron power - the Dresdeners favor sheen, transparency, and fast reflexes, lightning as well as thunder. Yes, they can whip up a glowering storm in the SIEGFRIED Act III prelude, but you'll never hear a Rhine journey with more wit, sparkle, and agility.
Janowski's propulsive conducting is invaluable for two main reasons. 1) Beyond projecting the RING's well-known tempests and tensions, he also puts over its comedy and irony - the teasing mischief of the Rhinemaids, the gallows humor during the valkyrie confab, the sad silliness of the nibelung squawkfest in SIEGFRIED II iii. 2) He's continually alert to Wagner's dramaturgy, to its narrative ebb, flow, and movement toward crisis. Janowski's pacing is ideal at the great turning points - Alberich stealing the gold, Erda's intervention when Wotan won't give up the ring (Solti is oblivious here), the mounting violence in Siegfried's meeting with the Wanderer (here Karajan is gingerly), the tension gathering under Siegfried's narrative in GOETTERDAEMMERUNG III ii as he incriminates himself step by step. This is purposeful, goal-oriented conducting that I suspect even Wagner himself would have admired.
The cast, too, is exemplary. For one thing, it's a true ensemble with the same talent staying on board to the finish: out of 12 recurring roles, 11 are single cast (sole exception: Mime, not fatally disruptive). Plus these singers, with unbeaten consistency, are both listenable and characterful. The set's original manufacturer, Ariola-Eurodisc, was a major player during the decade prior, recording both operatic rarities (Schubert, Orff) and standards (FIDELIO, CARMEN). Eurodisc had the budgets to sign up the biggest names, and here even bit parts can be stunningly cast - Kurt Moll as Hunding, Lucia Popp and Hanna Schwarz as Rhinemaidens, Cheryl Studer and Ruth Falcon as walkueren. A couple of the supporting players are routine - Stryczek's rough-and-ready Donner, Noecker's decently sung but undercharacterized Gunther - otherwise Siegmund Nimsgern is the optimum Alberich, a full-bodied character baritone with a genuine legato and a meaty high G, while Peter Schreier doubles Loge and the SIEGFRIED Mime with imagination, gusto, and (gasp!) real singing.
And so it goes: Jessye Norman and Siegfried Jerusalem are a Sieglinde and Siegmund competitive with anybody's, Yvonne Minton a Fricka of icy loveliness, Ortrun Wenkel intense and specific as Erda and Waltraute, Norma Sharp cool and pretty as both Gutrune and the woodbird, while a young Matti Salminen turns in the most baleful Hagen since Frick - and a Fafner so innately cavernous, his dragon scarcely needs any special miking. As for the three leads, our Wotan is Theo Adam, who probably clocked more stage hours in the role than anybody in Wagner history. By the time of the recording he'd logged 22 RING seasons, but his high bass still has plenty to offer - interpretive savvy, trusty top notes, dead-center intonation. WALKUERE III iii finds the old pro in below-form voice, struggling for focus and steadiness; elsewhere, surprisingly, his sound is sometimes firmer than fifteen years earlier under Boehm (compare the "Abendlich strahlt" in RHEINGOLD). Overall he's a rugged, patriarchal Wotan and he catches the curve of the character superbly, politician, rageaholic, and shaman.
As his daughter Bruennhilde, California soprano Jeannine Altmeyer has been shamefully undervalued down through the years. I heard her LA Isolde in the mid 80s, and trust me, this is a big, carrying voice. Stack her against her recent peers: she has a fuller, steadier instrument than Behrens, a lovelier sound than Marton, the upper extension that Dernesch hadn't, and Jones's caterwauling is beneath discussion. No, she hasn't the slash and bite of dominatrix Bruennhildes like Nilsson and Varnay; instead she offers page after page of fresh, supple, centered sound, you pick the note. She's the aural equivalent of the young, willowy Bruennhilde in Arthur Rackham's watercolors, and it's high time we noticed: Altmeyer is the valkyrie easiest on the ears.
Lastly Rene Kollo's contributions are arguably his most valuable on disc. As John Culshaw once wrote, we must think of the younger Siegfried "as a youth instead of an adult," so dark-timbred tenors such as Melchior, Suthaus, and Windgassen can present big credibility problems. Kollo is near ideal: his silver sound is mainstream lyric tenor - even chest tones preserve a basic leanness and lucidity - but its fine-line definition means unexpected carrying power and maneuverability; in short, he's persuasively youthful yet he can cut through heavy orchestration. Some soft passages, though, catch him thinning the support out of the voice (e.g., "Es sangen die Voeglein" in SIEGFRIED I i), but it's still a splendid achievement, vividly phrased, both mercurial and meditative. And he's fine, too, as his elder self in GOETTERDAEMMERUNG, though not quite as indispensable.
All of which, taken together, accounts for this RING's front-to-back superiority - digital stereo of documentary directness and transparency; podium leadership that articulates narrative structure while projecting not only its passion and poignance but (rare indeed) its comedy and irony; and a repertory casting policy that generates both good sound and plausible characterization. Yes, a couple of the bit players are substandard, but the leads are astonishingly persuasive - Adam's leonine Wotan, Altmeyer's mellifluous Bruennhilde, and several who are arguably Best in Stereo: Kollo's Siegfried, Nimsgern's Alberich, Norman's Sieglinde, Schreier's Mime, Salminen's Fafner and Hagen. In short, it's the All-Purpose RING - ideal for the first-time listener who really hopes the epic will make sense, excellent for the score-in-hand professional who wants a clear, dependable reference edition that actually does what his score says. For me it's the version that has stood up best under repeated listening; so treat it as your basic set, then supplement it, if you like, with choice alternatives - Karajan's WALKUERE, say, or Solti's GOETTERDAEMMERUNG, or Krauss's mono edition.
Sony's bare-bones packaging offers cast and track lists but no synopsis or libretto. Not a problem. For under $20 Amazon can sell you WAGNER'S RING OF THE NIBELUNG by Stewart Spencer et al. (ISBN 0500281947), a reader-friendly modern translation complete with beneficial annotations, commentaries, and background material.
on 29 June 2015
I am in my mid fifties and have been fascinated by Wagner's ring cycle since I was a teenager. I own just about every ring cycle available apart from the Janowski version. The reason for this is some music critics that I have the greatest of respect for have damned this cycle with faint praise. Even some of the regular Amazon contributors have put me off purchasing this boxed set with their lukewarm comments. These are people that I usually hold in high esteem and influence my purchases on this site. It is with some trepidation that I put forward this review because it goes against the considered views of many who are very experienced reviewers. I have always given this cycle a wide berth because of the lukewarm reviews it has generally received. I decided recently to take the plunge a bought this cycle on 14 cds for less than a decent bottle of wine. What a revelation! It is well conducted, beautifully played, well sung and it is sonically very impressive. Janowski allows the narrative to evolve and development across the four operas in a way that in my opinion feels more Wagner like than celebrity conductor. It is not a perfect ring but then none of them are. It has great continuity and is a very engaging ring to hear. I wish I had bought this ring years ago because the positives are many and negatives few. It is surprisingly good and to paraphrase my favourite reviewer on Amazon, unlimited stars! Purchase this ring without prejudice. You will not be disappointed.
on 6 March 2013
Temperamentally my heart is given to sunny Italy and Handel, Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi every time but I wanted to find out more about Wagner & what all the fuss is about. I had sat through Rheingold (by WNO) & knew there would be marvellous bits & god-awful longueurs (let's face it, you can never accuse Verdi of longueurs; theatrical melodrama yes, effortless, wonderful melody yes) but otherwise I had no preconceptions. I read all the reviews and then I knew that I had no idea what to expect & if, to a true Wagnerian, this singer was better than that one it didn't matter a jot. So what I wanted was a nice clear digital studio recording. This is it, I can hear the instruments, the words and there are no stage noises or prompters; it's nicely paced & well sung, you'd gladly pay to hear this cast in the theatre. It's a good price, achieved at the cost of no synopsis/libretto and my German (50 years old, 25%-FAIL & unused since then) is a little rusty but there are synopses & libretti available for a consideration elsewhere. Let Wagnerians fight over Solti or Furtwangler or Boehm, etc. this one is good for me & anyone else who wants a decent realisation for not too much dosh.
on 27 February 2013
I wanted to buy a complete set of Wagner's Ring cycle at a reasonable price to see what I was missing. Excerpts on various music programmes on the BBC wetted my appetite. Reviews of the cheaper sets showed much variation, revealing how difficult it is to make such comparisons. Having chosen this particular version with Marek Janowski and Staatskapelle Dresden I can now see some of the reasons why the reviews of this recording were so variable.
Orchestral sound often seems charateristic to the particular orchestra. I have some recordings of this orchestra playing Strauss and their sound character is very similar. I think they are a superb orchestra but I wonder about the accoustic of all their recordings. There is an element of remoteness and boxiness in the sound which is improved by raising the volume beyond normal playback levels. The orchestral detail is then excellent. The recording quality of this Wagner set is also very good with the whole dynamic range faithfully represented. This is quite an achievement given the age of the digital recording.
In reviewing the musical content I find that the problem is distinguishing between reviewing the Wagner music itself and this particular performance and recording. For me, much of the essence of Wagner is contained within the wonderful orchestral phrases, usually associated with the leitmotifs, particularly the luscious harmonies. Wagner excels in his use of woodwind and brass. This is certainly reflected in this CD set. There are many beautiful moments. However, it has to be said that the Ring cycle is long and repetitive. I can only judge this version, since I have no other, and I have to confess that I would not want to listen for too long in any one sitting. Whether this is because the performances or the operas themselves lack enough dramatic contrast I cannot tell.
Generally I am very happy with the orchestral sound but less so with some of the soloists. The picture of the Wagner soloist I am left with is that they stand in the middle of the stage and belt out their contributions. This often seems true in live versions. The music needs power so that elements of tenderness are difficult to convey.
I have expressed some reservations about this recording. Nevertheless, I think it was very good value and I would heartily recommend it to anyone who wanted an introduction to Wagner.
on 16 March 2013
The recording is excellent, the orchestral sound is fabulous and the singing never less than very good.
It is not as good as all the best bits from all recordings strung together but it certainly compares favourably with any other single recording. The only possible objection to this set is that it is ludicrously under priced.
on 25 December 2012
I think this is a fine ring. Jarowski brings out orchestral textures beautifully. His cast are fine for the period.
on 28 November 2014
Really solid performance og the Ring at bargain price. Well conducted and played with goo (and sometimes very good) soloists. A fantastic bargain and a good introduction to this work
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
on 21 October 2012
This review of Marek Janowski's Ring has a twofold objective: First, analyse the efforts of Janowski in Wagner thirty years before his "Wagner cycle" with the RSO Berlin, months before his new "Ring" gets published.
Second, this is the context of a "Wagner project" which will consist in reviewing 45 Wagner operas (with each Ring section representing ONE opera even if a Ring has to be reviewed in its entirety when each opera is not available separately). Why 45? Because it represents 3 operas per month (I don't feel I can do any better than this) between October 2012 and December 2013, so very pertinent in light of the forthcoming celebrations of the Wagner bicentenary. There will be three cycles of ten "maturity" operas - two of them in stereo: the presumed best studio recordings, the presumed best Bayreuth recordings, and - very importantly, ten operas from the "Golden Age" of Wagnerian singing, either from the Metropolitan Opera or the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires in the 1930s and 1940s. On top of this, 15 operas (from Bayreuth or elsewhere) representing consensus alternative to the "reference" recordings above. These are: the Janowski Ring, the Böhm Ring from Bayreuth; the Konwitschny Tannhäuser; The Abbado and Kubelik Lohengrin; the Sawallish Meistersinger plus two "non-Ring" Solti operas that were missing from my Amazon.com reviews of Solti's Wagner operas: the 1972 Parsifal and the 1996 Meistersinger (but I'll review them there). I'll add the Kempe Meistersinger, not in stereo but close enough...
RHEINGOLD (4 stars): So starting with the Janowski Ring, taped in East Germany between 1980 and 1983 with what was at the time probably the best possible cast and one of the best orchestras in the world (the Dresden Staatskapelle). Janowski was approached to do the job but he was a bit daunted since he was very young (41) and had not done the Ring before - as he himself mentioned on the Pentatone website in a video dedicated to his "new" Wagner cycle. Amazingly enough, as the music of Rheingolds unfolds for a rather fast-paced 2h18mn, it becomes clear that Janowski's view of Wagner's music has not materially changed over the years. The conductor's objective always seems to reduce the texture of the orchestral material, to "lighten" it and give it back some lyrical qualities that - it is true, are missing from a lot of performances. At this rate, transparency and an unparalleled sense of detail are the main competitive advantage of his conducting and I ended up discovering things in this score I didn't even know existed. Unfortunately some of the problems that could mar Janowski's Wagner 30 years later are already apparent in this recording, and that is a brisk fall in musical tension at times. In "Rheingold", this happens in the second scene between Wotan, the other Gods and the giants, before going to the Nibelheim, and this is a direct consequence of being too "leggero" in Wagner up to a point where you forget all dramatic intensity. Most of the performance is pretty glorious though - and all the set pieces are magnificently conducted (the opening, the descent in Niebelheim, the "Abendlich strahlt" to the conclusion): Theo Adam is amazingly much more at ease with Wotan than he was with Böhm almost fifteen years before: the voice has a little more burnish but the characterization is exponentially better and Adam at last portrays a God of awe and anger. Too bad the voice would start to decline sharply the year after, for the recording of the remaining installments.
Opposite him as Alberich, Siegmund Nimsgern portrays one of the most powerful Alberichs of the discography. This is a big voice and again the characterization, all in anger and frustration, is magnificent. Matti Salminen starts his career as a paramount Wagner villain as Fafner here: he remained loyal to Janowski (who offered him his first Hagen in this recording) and he will be present 30 years later. Lastly, the trio of Rheinmaidens is superb and is definitely one of the best in the discography: Popp-Priew -Schwartz, it can't really get any better than this...
The rest of the cast is unfortunately not that good nor impressive. The main disappointment is Peter Schreier's Loge, absolutely unbearable. Schreier views himself as a "tenor's Fischer-Dieskau" and his excessive characterization just gets him to be a rich man's Mime. Loge is half God and Zeidnik NEVER forgot that. Schreier is definitely way too working class for comfort here. Minton sings well but I think her voice is too high for Fricka. The rest of the cast failed to impress me really but for a large part of the conducting, the Wotan, the Alberich and the Rhinemaidens this is a very strong, very commendable Rheingold.
WALKURE (3 stars): As far as Walkure is concerned, we are one notch down versus the stimulating "Rheingold". A lot of participants bear this responsibility but the conductor is one of the main culprits. Janowski never gives the impression of having a true conception. He accompanies more than he conducts. Of course, some details are beautiful but one feels that Janowski is telling you "listen to this great horn here" and "what do you think of the oboe there?". This unfortunately does not make for a good conducting and one feels that Janowski is just anecdotal. Considering the orchestra playing under him, it is a bit of a shame really. Vocally, it is crisis time: Theo Adam still has a lot to say in Wotan but the voice is past its sell-by date. It is thin, dry, and does not survive past "Forte". Adam's Wotan is unable to get angry, which is a real problem. Opposite him, Jeannine Altmeyer is definitely a feminine Brünnhilde, the character is well-defined but the voice is too small for the part. Altmeyer is stretched from the "Hojotoho" onwards, and singing this was definitely not reasonable. Kurt Moll is beautiful but does not seem to care at all, Norman is too intellectual and too proud but her "oh herhstes Wunder" is magnificent, loud and sensitive. Siegfried Jerusalem remains the last of the tenors with a true heroic format: the number of "Tristans" and "Rings" that he single-handedly saved from oblivion in the 80s and 90s is innumerable, and he remains loyal to these qualities here. Not enough to save this recording I'm afraid.
SIEGFRIED (4 stars). Siegfried is probably the one opera within the Ring that fits best with Janowski's "light touch" Wagner. This is the one I saw him succeed in in Orange in 1988, and here we have his best effort so far in this Ring. The reason is mainly due to the tenor: it is so rare to find youthful, clarion Sigfrieds in the modern discography, that the rediscovery of René Kollo in his last recorded big Wagner role, is a revelation. The tone is clear, the voice very appropriately young - the voice is not THAT big but it projects fantastically well and it is flexible enough (despite a couple of strains that have no importance in light of the overall performance). This is a "Siegfried" where the title role is properly sung: listen carefully because it won't happen afterwards (except for the equally underrated Siegfried Jerusalem). Janowski ends up being an enthusiastic accompanist in Act I, very lyrical in II and properly magic in III as Siegfried leaves the Wanderer to travel to Brünnhilde's resting place. However, I was disappointed by Janowski's handling of the Wanderer-Erda scene, falling totally flat. To be fair, Wenkel is off pitch most of the times and Adam shows his age pretty much everywhere in the score, despite a very good literacy of the role and a really good impersonation. Unfortunately Adam's best years are behind him and the thinness of the voice means that he can't compete with the old Hotter on the Solti recording, who benefited from the remains of a big, burly bass-barytone voice. The rest of the cast tries to be at par with the occasion: Altmeyer is stretched but gives it all and she is a wonderfully feminine Brunnhilde - even if her voice wouldn't last long after that. Schreier is a great Mime. His working class antics which were a heresy in Loge are perfectly valid for Mime and Schreier gives here one of his best performances on record. Nimsgern is his usual beautiful, wounded Alberich and Norma Sharp is an OK bird.
So overall this is a very successful Siegfried, very lyrical and fast-moving, very poetically conducted by Janowski despite his absence in Act III scene 1. But we'll cherish this set for René Kollo, one of the last two Siegfrieds of modern times.
GOTTERDAMMERUNG (2 STARS): What a disappointment! While this Ring (despite some unevenness) seemed to be going in the right direction, the last installment does not work at all. Janowski is unable to rise above a very litteral, very descriptive view of Götterdämmerung. There is no metaphysical attempt, not even an effort to make the narrative interesting. Janowski and the Staatskapelle simply make it up as they go along and this is a real shame. If you find us too harsh here, the glitches in the performance of the orchestra are for all to hear and confirm the improvised character of this performance. The cast is either insufficient or bored. Among the latter Salminen, in his first (and unfortunately worst) Hagen on record. The vibrato of René Kollo's voice has widened since the previous year, and the Götterdämmerung's Siegfried is definitely a tad too heavy for him. Altmeyer is very feminine, even tragic at times, and she makes the best of her instrument but she is indeed very noisy and, after four hours, tiring. This is overall a very disappointing conclusion to Janowski's Ring.
Janowski was right: he was too young and too inexperienced to conduct the Ring when he did it. So I'll be very eager to hear what he has to say about the piece more than 30 years after this first try. He will probably have a less stellar cast, but he will have the most important asset of them all: the benefit of experience...