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Wagner: Siegfried Box set, Hybrid SACD, SACD

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Product details

  • Conductor: Marek Janowski
  • Composer: Richard Wagner
  • Audio CD (4 Nov. 2013)
  • Please Note: Requires SACD-compatible hardware
  • Number of Discs: 3
  • Format: Box set, Hybrid SACD, SACD
  • Label: Pentatone Classics
  • ASIN: B00CZ9CNJA
  • Other Editions: Audio CD
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 289,036 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)
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Digital Booklet: Wagner: Siegfried
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Product Description

Product Description

This is the 9th release in PentaTone's successful Wagner Edition and the third release of the cycle:Der Ring des Nibelungen.The last Ring recording (Götterdämmerung)will follow in November 2013.The PentaTone Edition is attracting a lot of(positive)media attention.It is becoming THE Wagner Edition of the 21st century.In April our recording of Parsifal won a BBC Music Magazine Award for technical excellence.This comes after an Editor's Choice for Flying Dutchman and Lohengrin(Gramophone),a Recording of the Month for Parsifal(BBC Music Magazine)a Opera Choice of the Month for Meistersinger and Lohengrin(BBC Music Magazine)and 3 x CD of the week for one of the albums in the Sunday Times.With each new release we see the sales increasing,The Edition is becoming a collector's item.

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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
To my ears, Janowski's conducting style with Wagner is best described as "brisk and brusque", and all too frequently "perfunctory". He seems to want to get through it as quickly as possible and with as little expression. Ernest Newman opined, and many have reiterated that in the Ring tempo is not important, it is "pulse" that counts, and I fully concur with this view. The Ring can emerge as a triumph in the hands of Knappertsbusch or equally well under Bohm, but in hands of Janowski I generally find that there is a lack of pulse and that the patient has died!
I am happy to advise that on this occasion, the patient is alive and well, though not without minor complications on the road to recovery!
The set is presented in the attractive uniform Pentatone packaging, on 3CDs only, and with a cast drawn from the pool (more like a puddle) of front rank performers of Wagner in the current era, which last is sadly not saying much. More of this anon.

Janowski sets a tempo which is on the faster side, but not unduly so, and the dark smoky opening of the work is wonderfully captured and enunciated, with the Dragon Motif leaping out at one with real menace. Indeed, Janowski structures the whole of the first two acts uncommonly well, with some extended passages rivalling the very best! He shapes the Forest Murmurs beautifully, with the "Love of Woman" motif which he glossed over so irritatingly in Loge's Narration in Rheingold here played with a chamber like delicacy, with string portamento and a translucent beauty.
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Janowski 80%, Orchestra 100%, Urmana 80%, Elsner 90%, Gould 90%, Konieczny 50%, Schmeckenbecher 70%, Salminen 60%, Klußmann 100%, Larsson 100%. Overall impression 90%. I really like this recording and I can really recommend it.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars 2 reviews
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars There's no Golden Age singing, but for excitement and dramatic urgency, this Siegfried is a real success 6 Nov. 2013
By Santa Fe Listener - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Janowski's live Ring cycle from Berlin closes out with this new Siegfried and Gotterdammerung soon to follow. Simultaneously the last installment will end PentaTone's admirable project to record all ten of Wagner's major operas, a feat that none of the so-called major labels have attempted in decades, if at all. Despite complaints that modern Wagner singing can't match the best from the past - which is certainly true - Janowski's traversals give us a portrait of where Wagner now stands. The chief drawback with this whole series has been that without visual enticements, the actual singing is held up to x-ray examination. Insofar as Wagner still thrives, the lifeblood of present-day performances has been on DVD, where we can appreciate a higher level of imagination in staging and acting than the Golden Age was accustomed to.

With Siegfried and Gotterdammerung, Janowski has entered the deepest waters of heroic singing, so it must be conceded at the outset that this performance features a make-do hero in Stephen Gould and a Brunnhilde who, strong of voice as she is, lacks the rightness of Flagstad, Varnay, and Nilsson. It's too bad that the producers couldn't pair Gould again with Nina Stemme - I genuinely enjoyed their Tristan und Isolde. On the plus side, we get two of the strongest singers from PentaTone's Rheingold, Christian Elsner as Mime and Tomasz Konieczny as the Wanderer/Wotan, plus two longtime Wagner stalwarts, Anna Larsson and Matti Salminen. Before discussing any particulars, here's the complete cast:

Tomasz Konieczny (Der Wanderer/Wotan), Stephen Gould (Siegfried), Violeta Urmana (Brünnhilde), Anna Larsson (Erda), Matti Salminen (Fafner), Jochen Schmeckenbecher (Alberich), Christian Elsner (Mime), Sophie Klußmann (Stimme eines Waldvogels)

Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, Marek Janowski

The first scene provides the general contour of what's to come: vivid, detailed sonics, accomplished conducting that energetically drives the story forward, and committed orchestral playing. We are thrust into the middle of the action with dramatic engagement, a major asset. Nothing sounds routine or distant. Elsner has made the decision to portray a truly nasty Mime; he doesn't even whine with self-pity to garner a grain of sympathy. Every phrase expresses a vicious soul. The tone gets softer only when Siegfried is present and Mime puts on a show of paternal care. As for Gould's first entry, he can't accomplish the hero's excited outburst without a bit of fudging, and in the ensuing scene, it's not entirely clear that this Siegfried has a stronger voice than Mime - the same accusation was hurled at Jess Thomas when he recorded the role for Karajan five decades ago. But one positive sign is Gould's psychological realism - he sounds genuinely plaintive begging Mime to tell him about his mother.

Also, in Gould's favor is the natural warmth of his tone. Most of today's Siegfrieds sound thinner, harsher, or more shrill. For a make-or-break moment, one can jump immediately to the Forging Scene, where some listeners won't be able to compromise with a semi-Heldentenor voice. To his credit, Gould charges at the music, valiantly producing as much force and tone as he can. In his eagerness to make a heroic impression, phrasing and note values turn sloppy, but I like the sense of excited improvisation here. Far better this than the usual caution from overparted singers whose first priority is to conserve their energy. But it must be admitted that Mime sounds stronger than Siegfried in this scene. Janowski's conducting is toned down to accommodate Gould, yet he maintains tension and propulsion very well. All things considered, the Forging Scene is by no means a disaster.

Another test comes with Wotan in his riddle scene with Mime, just before the Forging Scene. Tomasz Konieczny possesses a grainy, acidic voice that at first hearing seems more like an evil Alberich voice than one suitable for Wotan. I admire the fact that Konieczny doesn't try to become a sonorous, fatherly figure - i.e., a latter-day Hans Hotter - but instead unleashes a snarly, intense and young-sounding Wanderern. The threat he holds over Mime is deadly and very real, which makes their scene a high point here. The malefic dwarf is frightened out of his wits. This is one case where two idiosyncratic portrayals turn out to generate electricity. Just don't expect nobility from this insidious Wanderer.

The third litmus test comes in the Awakening Scene, where to be candid, almost every modern account of Siegfried falls apart. The demands on both Siegfried and Brunnhilde are murderous, and without a Nilsson or Flagstad, the poor soprano must stand and deliver from a cold start, while her hero has to compete with her at the end of a four-hour endurance contest. Another drawback is that the scene is extended and tries the patience of the audience. With her initial cry of "Heil dir, Sonne!" we get the bad news and the good news about Violeta Urmana, the prominent Lithusanian mezzo who in recent years has pushed her voice into dramatic soprano range (where the serious money and fame are to be found).

The good news is that Urmana has a Brunnhilde-size voice and can easily carry over the orchestra. The bad news is a borderline wobble, a voice no longer youthful in timbre, indifferent German, and piercing high notes. Every listener will have to balance these qualities out. As for Gould, he doesn't hold back but attacks the music eagerly, even recklessly. Since Urmana is equally excitable, the result is a kind of ecstasy - as Wagner calls for - fabricated out of wild yelling-singing. Both singers try to deliver dramatic conviction at the limits of their vocal comfort zone. I admire that, but I wouldn't go back for a second dose very soon.

Siegfried is not only very long but musically so varied that many events unfold. My three litmus tests are crucial but hardly the whole story. Assuming that you don't reject his recording for defects I've already covered, I'd recommend it for sheer dramatic impact. The Fafner is truly sinister and dangerous; the Alberich exudes bitter malevolence; the Forest Bird does reasonably well (not everyone can bring in a Joan Sutherland as lavish casting the way Solti did); the Erda possesses an impressive firm contralto. In the end, the winning thing about this performance is that the singers listen to one another and interact with high emotion. No one plants his feet and sings as if in isolation.

For these reasons, I think Janowski's Siegfried snatches the chestnuts out of the fire, giving us a Ring installment that's fully the equal of the highly successful Rheingold that came before. It's exciting, dynamic, and involving beyond any expectations I brought to it.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fine performance and recording with a few caveats-but excellent by the standards of today! 12 Nov. 2013
By D. S. CROWE - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
To my ears, Janowski's conducting style with Wagner is best described as "brisk and brusque", and all too frequently "perfunctory". He seems to want to get through it as quickly as possible and with as little expression. Ernest Newman opined, and many have reiterated that in the Ring tempo is not important, it is "pulse" that counts, and I fully concur with this view. The Ring can emerge as a triumph in the hands of Knappertsbusch or equally well under Bohm, but in hands of Janowski I generally find that there is a lack of pulse and that the patient has died!
I am happy to advise that on this occasion, the patient is alive and well, though not without minor complications on the road to recovery!
The set is presented in the attractive uniform Pentatone packaging, on 3CDs only, and with a cast drawn from the pool (more like a puddle) of front rank performers of Wagner in the current era, which last is sadly not saying much. More of this anon.

Janowski sets a tempo which is on the faster side, but not unduly so, and the dark smoky opening of the work is wonderfully captured and enunciated, with the Dragon Motif leaping out at one with real menace. Indeed, Janowski structures the whole of the first two acts uncommonly well, with some extended passages rivalling the very best! He shapes the Forest Murmurs beautifully, with the "Love of Woman" motif which he glossed over so irritatingly in Loge's Narration in Rheingold here played with a chamber like delicacy, with string portamento and a translucent beauty.
He is rewarded throughout by the orchestra which gives its best account of the whole epic series to date-it still sounds a little thin on the ground on occasions, and the concert balance does throw up some sonic anomalies, but the warm rich sound palette is ideal for Wagner.

By the way, the engineers at Pentatone could show the lads at EMI/Warner and DG a thing or two about capturing beautiful and detailed sound in the Berlin Philharmonie!

The prelude to Act Three takes me aback every time I play it on this set-it is medium paced, with a rather rum-te-tum rhythm and lacks totally the blazing brilliance we have come to expect in this passage, and which I expected from Janowski in particular, mindful of his previous recording.
Instead he opts for a rather careful approach, but gets the orchestra to play with a transparency that reveals a whole seam of string counterpoint which is normally swamped by the over-riding brass.
It doesn't capture the storm driven violence of the Wanderer's final surge through the world of men and impending severing of the last vestiges of his power, but it is quite an interesting take on the passage.
The rest of Act 3 is well executed by Janowski-this time he reins in the tempo for Siegfried's ascent of Brunnhilde's Rock through the Magic Fire, a passage he ruined for me on his earlier recording by rushing through it. Thankfully, he does not dwell over long on the awakening of the erstwhile Valkyrie, and his sensible no-nonsense tempo in the remainder of the act is effective and welcome.
So far, so good- very well conducted and played, and state-of-the art recording, especially in SACD.

Now we return to the puddle of vocal talent. The minor roles in Siegfried can badly affect a performance if not performed well-the uninvolved Fafner and wobbly, unfocussed Woodbird all but ruin Barenboim's otherwise superb performance, but there is no such concern with this set.
The vocally immortal Matti Salminen at near 70 is a perfect Fafner, and though Sophie Klussman lacks the vocal glamour of Joan Sutherland for Solti or best of all Katherine Battle for Levine, the role is actually not intended for such voices-indeed, it was conceived with a boy soprano in mind!
Ms Klussman has a bright, clear and steady soprano which is very effective in the role, though I do miss the wonderful coloratura of the exponent on the recent Thielemann Vienna set.

I found the Alberich of Jochen Schmeckenbecher to be very well acted but poorly sung on the Weigle Rheingold, but very fine with firm tone on the Weigle Siegfried, and exactly the same applies to his assumption of the roles on the Janowski cycle-I really did not care for it at all in Rheingold-but here, where he does not have sustain so much legato singing, he is very fine indeed.

Anna Larsson has become the default Erda of her generation-and with good reason. She is superb.

No-one can deny that Tomasz Konieczny's Wotan/Wanderer is firmly sung-his lighter bass voice is absolutely secure in all registers-but to my ears his nasal tone has the effect of making him sound like he is snarling in anger with every phrase, even when he intends to portray compassion and nobility. This is unfortunate, as it robs this role of much of its beauty, but certainly the vocal duel with Mime works well, and his confrontation with Alberich works too, but he sounds too hectoring in his scene with Erda and it's not surprising that Siegfried doesn't take to this bad tempered wayfarer!
Still, others are not so allergic to this, and it is undeniably well sung.

The casting of Christian Elsner is somewhat of a surprise-this fine tenor has sung Siegmund for Rattle, Parsifal for Janowski and as late replacement for an indisposed Kaufmann in Vienna to great acclaim all in the last 12 months!
His Loge for Janowski was very much a "straight" characterisation and the highlight of that uneven set, but I had doubts about his tackling the role of Mime-or even wanting to.
This set could reasonably be re-titled "Wagner's Mime" such is the strength of the characterisation.
He initially adopts a distorted voice and I feared that we would plunge to the depths of Wolfgang Schmidt, but there are no such fears for he sings most the role "straight", with refulgent full and firm tone (almost too much!) allowing the text and his vocal acting to do the characterisation.

There is little sympathy to be had for this Mime- he is a nasty piece of work indeed, and I have to say that any vestige of the humour, however heavy handed, that we know Wagner intended especially in Act One is totally absent, and I miss that but am more than willing to buy into this darker view when it is so stunningly well crafted. This is a tour de force.

Violeta Urmana is typical of a mezzo who has "bigged up"-she can thrill us with top notes, but has difficulty sustaining legato in lower registers. Her voice, bigger and darker than Petra Lang's, sounds powerful and mature, more a Valkyrie than awakened maiden, and too often there is the threat of an inherent tremor disintegrating into outright wobble. She just gets away with it though. She's typical of what we have come to expect today-she is uncommonly similar to Linda Watson on a good day, which means not bad, but not great.

Finally, we come to Stephen Gould's 3rd commercial recording (all live) of the title role. It is his best by not miles, but light years! His entry in the Vienna recording was very much his aiming at the notes and missing with the first half of that act being little more then unintelligible gabble.
Here he enters with firmly focussed, accurate tone and gives a highly creditable account of the whole act, even the Forging Song. His slightly nasal tone is always "dry" in the very top register, but perhaps aided by the concert venue and not needing to act physically, he maintains a firm tone throughout and is far from the poor assumptions of his earlier 2 sets. He is tiring towards the end, with a few more snatched notes and shouts, but overall it is a very pleasing experience.
Act 2 is as fine-he croons again an appealing Forest Murmurs, is thrilling in his confrontation with Fafner and only in the final long soliloquy do we detect signs of tiredness and some snatched notes which he only just makes, let alone sustains.
His Act 3 solo narration shows signs of tiredness, and his closing scene with Brunnhilde is not a thing of beauty-from either participant-but then these days it seldom is!
Elsner is inherently a better singer than Gould, and as so often the thought occurs that the roles could be reversed, but in truth this not a realistic prospect.
Stephen Gould is not the Siegfried of our dreams-but on this occasion, neither is he the Siegfried of our nightmares! Unlike other current exponents of this role, he has a sound technique and has actually improved rather than rapidly deteriorated as so many of his contemporaries have.
He deserves great credit for this.

Tuned anvils give them a nice musical ring, and the balance between voices and orchestra has been nicely managed by the excellent engineers. Audience noise is non-existent, with applause excised until the finale.
I like this recording a lot -I won't be returning to the final duet often, but the rest of the performance is very enjoyable. I count this as Janowski's best Wagner conducting to date, better than his Tannhauser and Walkure both of which I enjoyed.
Overall, it's not of the very highest possible standard-by the criteria of today it's probably about 8 stars, but viewed objectively it is a 4 Star recommendation with unquestionably the best recorded sound. Worth exploring with an enthusiastic recommendation, if not quite to "unmissable" standard! Keilberth, Bohm, Solti, Karajan and Barenboim have more to say about this work with performances from the "Golden Age." Stewart Crowe
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