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A worthy single-disc presentation of the Ring from Jarvi
on 5 July 2015
I have lately been imbibing the music of Wagner's Ring, hearing the Goodall Ring (sung in English) in small chunks at a time over the last three months and hearing several orchestral CDs of the Ring. I have had the chance to hear the individual concert arrangements that Herman Zumpe prepared during Wagner's lifetime (available on countless recordings), and also the Ring synthesis that Maazel did with the Berliners. As of now, I only know of the Maazel and de Vlieger suites, and also Friedmann Dressler's 90-minute Symphonic Ring. Of these various CD-length Ring condensations, I find that I like the de Vlieger version better. The different sections flow smoothly into each other and the narrative strands are brought out more clearly here. As such this is far from an abomination or a travesty of Wagner's music. Rather, I find that it presents the most important excerpts without all the boring bits in between.
At this date I only know of three versions of De Vlieger's jumbo-sized Ring suite. This Chandos version with Neeme Järvi and the Scottish National Orchestra is the second, made some 15 years after the first recording by its dedicatee Edo de Waart. At this writing BIS recently released a third recording from Lawrence Renes and the Royal Swedish Opera Orchestra. I admit that I'm not a Wagnerian and as such my knowledge of his music may be limited. However, Jarvi and his orchestra offer a full-bodied and dramatic performance of this suits and the orchestra is on excellent form. I find that I'm fonder of Jarvi's propulsive conducting that gives thrust to the narrative than of the conducting of others who have done this arrangement.
Järvi takes an hour in his version, as opposed to 67 minutes of De Waart or 65 for Renes. Though the speeds adopted here may be brisker and fleeter, he does not trivialise the music so that it loses its inherent power, or pander to time-starved professionals who want to inflict their hurry-sick paradigm on the world. The orchestra rises to the occasion in responding to the various moods of the drama, be it through the thrill of the famous Ride of the Valkyries or the tragedy of Siegfried's death during his funeral procession. Chandos captures this in superb, resplendent sound. Every section has definition, space and air in the ambient acoustic of the Glasgow hall where Chandos recorded this disc. The acoustic is resonant but by and large does not turn the sounds into a cloudy mush. Occasionally some minor details are obscured, such as the downward violin swirls that accompany Siegfried's death, but the sound reproduction is still very good. By all accounts I've read, the Swedish disc was recorded in a drier acoustic. However, this sound of the Chandos recording is just as good with a balance of clarity and ambience.
Before I close my review, I would like to say a brief word about this de Vlieger Ring synthesis. There are a few reasons why I like it better than Maazel. As mentioned before, this version presents the story more clearly. There is less "bleeding" between sections as in the Maazel suite. As a listener I sense that the music breaks naturally after the Magic Fire music. Here, de Vlieger uses the second half where the Wotan spear motif is the starting point of this stretch rather than the ending point as in Maazel's version. With Maazel, the different sections dissolve quickly into each other and don't "compartmentalise" themselves as they do here. De Vlieger's Valkyrie section uses the second half of the Magic Fire music and allows the first segment to end with the last chords of the Valkyries and before the Forest Murmurs. The edits are also seamless between sections and aren't abrupt. After absorbing the individual operas I sense that there aren't many original original de Vlieger links between the disparate episodes. Any original bars are hardly noticeable. One example comes after the Valhalla theme in Track 4. Some people may have dismissed the transition between the Valhalla theme and the Ride of the Valkyries as ersatz Wagner. However, de Vlieger retained the passage of music where Wotan muses on the dark deeds that enabled him to attain Valhalla and cuts to the Siegmund-Hunding fight from Act Two of The Valkyrie. This dovetails very nicely into the Ride of the Valkyries. It is seamless because we hear the famous Valkyrie motif after that fight. The result shows how Wotan's authority withers and Brunhilde and Siegfried propel the drama forward. As a focused suite that tells the story of the Ring, I hope it will have a long life in concert halls.
I like this single-disc Ring suite much better than the other competing recordings of de Vlieger's jumbo-sized Ring suite. This is still an excellent purchase, especially for owners of SACD players. Though some people recommend the BIS disc with Renes and the Royal Swedish Orchestra, you can't go wrong here. Jarvi's performance is still an excellent way to hear the most important bits of the Ring without the boring bits left in.