on 20 July 2011
I'm surprised there are no reviews of this recording yet, how bizarre! Anyway, all I'll say is that if you like Wagner's Gotterdammerung to be magisterial and performed with a slightly more objective viewpoint from the podium, then you'll probably like this recording. That's not to say that it is cold and detached, far from it. There is passion and excitement aplenty - especially in Siegfried's Rhine Journey, the chorus in Act 2, Scene 3 and of course the ecstatic final Immolation Scene. Yet this excitement is slightly more contained than the hell-for-leather Solti approach, so I suppose it depends what you're looking for. The pacing is generally quite middle-of-the-road, neither too impetuous nor too plodding (which sort of undermines the myth that Karajan's recordings were always self-indulgent - not here!) He provides more transparency for the listener to revel in the orchestral strands and the pyschological implications of the orchestral leitmotifs, what one might call a 'chamber music approach' - although Karajan hated that term when applied to orchestral music!
I'm not an expert in the subtleties of the vocal soloists, but on the whole I found the voices were very suitable for their roles. Helga Dernesch gives a vibrant and passionate performance in her role as Brunnhilde, Helge Brilioth is also fantastic as Siegfried - personally I don't think his voice is too light, I think it's wonderfully radiant and thrilling. Then we have the magisterial Thomas Stewart as Gunther, Karl Ridderbusch as Hagen as well as Gundula Janowitz and Christa Ludwig thrown in for good measure. What an embarrassment of riches!
Personally I find Karajan's approach in this 'grand opera', to give it one title, to be very convincing, partly due to his more considered approach to the score and of the course the warm and natural sound from DG, which really brings out the details. I'm not going to get drawn into the whole Solti/Karajan dichotomy as it's now a very over-heated and tired debate! Basically I can see no reason why one can't have both and enjoy both approaches on their own merits. Although personally I think that Solti is slightly better in the thrilling virtuosity of Das Rheingold and Siegfried than in the warmer, more luxuriant textures of Gotterdammerung - this is where Karajan's sense of musicality really comes into play.
Just out of interest I own a mixture of recordings for the Ring Cycle and have found, through pure accident, that they have formed a very strong collection of individual interpretations: Das Rheingold - VPO/Solti; Die Walkure - LSO/Leinsdorf - a thrilling and highly passionate account if ever there was one; Siegfried - VPO/Solti and of course Karajan's Gotterdammerung. This would be my personal selection if I had to choose, but then again everyone else will have their own opinions, so let's leave it there.
I have been re-visiting all four recordings of Karajan's "Ring", some of which I haven't heard since I owned it on LP in the Middle Ages, and I have of course discovered that it is by and large so very much better than received critical opinion would have it both then and now. The only casualty has been my continued antipathy to Fischer-Dieskau's fussy, under-powered Wotan in "Das Rheingold"; otherwise I am delighted with the singing, conducting and orchestral playing, all enhanced by the re-mastering.
Certain weaknesses persist but they are only relative. Dernesch is shrill and over-parted in the upper stretches (and I use the word advisedly) of her role but is also womanly, impassioned, very human and the possessor of a warm, vibrant soprano that we would be glad to hear today. Brilioth is no slouch as Siegfried and the replacement for Jess Thomas, whose contribution to "Siegfried" I have also greatly revised upward. He lacks penetration but is steady and attractive of tone, rather more lyrical than some and none the worse for that. Ludwig is a tower of strength, doubling as a grave Norn and an anguished, desperate, melancholy Waltraute. I love Gundula Janowitz's silvery, faintly tremulous, very vulnerable Gutrune and of course Zoltan Kelemen's cameo as Alberich is a gem - but the real triumph is the gorgeously sung Hagen of Karl Ridderbusch. It can be argued that his sound is intrinsically too noble but he turns that to his advantage, using his smooth, purring bass and formidable upper extension to turn Hagen into a sinister, scheming Iago rather than an overtly malevolent, brutish bully of the Frick school. His sleepy half-voice when his father visits him in his slumber is both mesmerising and a vocal tour de force. In voice type, he is the forerunner of Kurt Moll, who similarly has trouble playing villains because he invariably sounds more like a benign Sarastro. The same accusation of being vocally unsuited to Gunther could be could be levelled Thomas Stewart's similarly heroic bass-baritone but he sings superbly and makes a really rounded character of that craven chieftain.
It is true that Karajan's conducting does not generate the visceral thrill of Solti's version - the latter's desire to crank up tension as opposed to bringing out the sheer lyricism of Wagner's score is obvious - but Karajan's insistence upon but the sheer beauty of the BPO's sound is a marvel in itself and there are compensations when the subtleties of the music score are given their due - although I am not suggesting that Karajan cannot create real impact, as Siegfried's funeral music is overwhelmingly grand.
I have read one or two absurdly negative critiques of this profoundly intelligent recording but agree with reviewers who maintain that there is surely room in the world - or at least in any Wagnerian's collection - for two such different yet equally compelling accounts as those by Solti and Karajan here. I listen to both with almost equal pleasure but would ultimately plump for Solti as first choice simply because Nilsson, Frick and the conductor create such excitement in key scenes such as that when Brünnhilde, Hagen and Gunther - with D-F-D much better cast there - swear vengeance upon Siegfried in the scintillating trio that closes Act 2. Yet that same scene still comes off well under Karajan and I don't want to exaggerate any supposed lack of intensity in his recording.
on 24 January 2014
This is a simply incandescent performance of Wagner from Karajan and his wonderful orchestra. The playing is just simply beautiful and in line after line detail emerges that is often not present in other recordings. However there is plenty of Heft when needed, such as in Siegfried's funeral March.
The casting is pretty good although perhaps not quite up to the standard of the Decca Solti. Brillioth is a good if not outstanding Siegfried. Denersch is top notch with a fabulous Immolation scene. The only slight reservation comes with Ridderbusch's Hagen, whose tone seems more noble (Hans Sachs) than naturally villainous. But in terms of sheer singing he certainly doesn't let the side down.
The rest of the cast are good, with Janowitz and Stewart well paired as brother and sister.
But this is definitely Karajan's version, done with an inevitable sweep. Though Solti may provide more audio thrills and spills this version may very well be easier to live with.
on 18 January 2012
I bought this performance of Gotterdammerung, mainly on account of Karajan. I was not disappointed. His conducting is full of emotion, drama and grandeur. All three ingredients are essential for Wagner's score. I was used to the Decca ring up to now. Decca certainly has far better voices, better recording, in spite of the fact that it is an earlier recording and the Vienna Philharmonic play in excellent form. Unfortunately Solti misses the drama in a number of instances and this is where Karajan offers us a far superior orchestral playing, something of primary importance in this opera. Some of his soloists simply do not have the vocal capacity for their parts, as compared to their Decca counterparts, which is a pity and this leaves something to be desired. On the whole this is a performance that would by far surpass anything we are likely to hear in the theatre today.
on 10 April 2016
Never have I wished for a quicker apocalypse. The funeral march is an essential sonic treat but the real thrill here is the chorus - punches through to the heart - warms the blood. By the end I was wondering - how do you - musically - finish a sixteen hour opera? I'm not sure Wagner knew neither but Gotterdammerung is a fitting conclusion to an overall work that is awesome in its scope, dazzling in its execution, and inspired in its cryptic qualities.