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4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Wagner: Die Walküre
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 13 February 2013
It was not so long ago that the prospect of a new recording of any complete segment of the Ring aroused excited anticipation, but for the last 20 years or so this has been replaced by anticipated disappointment to outright dread!
Cycles from Haenchen, Simone Young, Weigel and Thielemann have all had their merits, but vocally they have been at best serviceable.

While Elder got his putative cycle off to a magnificent reverse start, the second instalment was a disappointment and it is unclear as to whether a full cycle will yet emerge. I found the recent Gergiev recording of Parsifal to be a qualified success, with again some vocal frailties being the cause of disappointment, so with the strength of the casting in this set, it was with a long lost sense of excitement that I opened the box on this cycle.
It is easy to understand why Wälkure was chosen to start the cycle, as it is the most popular work by far and the most often given as a "stand alone" performance, and we must remember that this cycle derives from concerts where it was important to get off to "a flying start!" Karajan adopted the same strategy for his 1960's cycle.

I expected Gergiev to dive in with both feet and give us a fiercely driven reading which outpaced Leinsdorf, but I could not have been more wrong. I should not have been so surprised at the slower tempo however, as memories of Gergiev's Kirov Ring in Cardiff and London are of very slow tempi which I put down to necessity through unfamiliarity by singers and orchestra (it was a mess!), but it would appear is actually Gergiev's interpretative stance. We are not talking Goodall or Kna here, but it is expansive in the Karajan vein without being able to maintain Karajan's sublime and almost ethereal long line especially in Act One.
I'm not mad about the Maryinsky Concert Hall Acoustics which are a bit dry and accentuate the rather wiry quality of the lower strings which results in bass light recordings when no audience is present, but here, with an audience present there is sufficient air around the musicians to give pleasing results.

The recording, produced by the ubiquitous James Mallinson, is well balanced and detailed and the orchestra plays very well, with the usual sheen to the upper strings, rather "buzz saw" lower strings and trumpets and horns with just a hint of the "blarpy" sound that used to characterise all brass sections in Russian Orchestras, We certainly know we're not in Vienna or Berlin, or indeed London.
Vocally the expectations are more or less met. FINALLY we get a complete role recorded by Kaufmann, and he is the best Siegmund since Vickers, many would suggest the best in the stereo era and though I don't necessarily agree, I wouldn't argue either-it's very close!

His extended cries of "Wälse" raise the hairs on the neck, the "Winterstürme" is both heroic and tender in equal measure, and even in what can be a real drag in the wrong hands, the "Todesverkundigung" scene , he is superb and very affecting. He makes a triumph of the role.
He is partnered by Anja Kampe instead of the seemingly default Westbroek, a singer who has been singing Isolde and Brünnhilde for some time, and who has a powerful attractive upper register but has the usual difficulties in the mid range. She gives a feisty performance, not in the same vein as Janowitz, Brouwensteijn or Crespin, and relies on her vocal acting rather than the nature of the voice to convey vulnerability. I like her performance-she sings thrillingly at times-but she is not my favourite Sieglinde by a long way. Petrenko's Hunding, familiar from the Rattle filmed performance, is a more sinister, younger sounding character, far from the hulking bully we usually get and is very effective.

The Fricka of Gubanova is steady voiced and hectoring, a real "shrew" but not much else. However, it's a relief to hear the part so well sung. The Valkyries are reasonably secure with occasional "Slavic tendencies"
Nina Stemme is the Brünnhilde of this generation, and in modern terms she is superb, with thrilling "Ho-Jo-To Ho's" as she enters, and rich fulsome tone throughout. She too has more than a touch of the wobbles in the lower range, but she counters this with a wonderful dramatic sense and understanding of the role. She is perhaps nearest to Varnay in vocal quality and is particularly fine in her extended duets with Wotan.

Which brings us to René Pape: He is simply the finest Wotan in this work since George London and Thomas Stewart. He has rich firm tone, a secure upper register and in his performance conveys wonderfully the exultation followed by frustration in Act 2, and the anger and finally love and compassion in Act 3. Although he is nominally a bass, there is none of the fragility in the upper register of Tomlinson, and of course Hotter in later years. He outclasses a now shaky Terfel in vocal quality, and is a tad less histrionic in his acting which I prefer.

So, back to Gergiev's conducting. He steers it all beautifully, supporting the singers well, and conjuring up really lush sound in the lyrical passages especially, and the show stopping moments such as the sword coming out of the tree, the Ride of the Valkyries and Wotan's Farewell are all well done though Gergiev picks up the tempo for the Feuerzauber and robs it of some its grandeur...and yet, and yet there is a little something lacking-dare I say it, but a little more drive would be welcome,and in his seeking to achieve a chamber-like quality at times the orchestra ends up sounding thin on the ground, but I don't want to exaggerate this-it is INFINITELY preferable to the perfunctory style of the likes of Janowski and even Haenchen. So all in all it is a great success. Is it my favourite recording? Not by a long way, that's a straight slugfest between Leinsdorf and Karajan, but it is one with which I would be reluctant part and to which I will return with pleasure. I suppose in terms of a really modern recording it deserves 5 stars, as I would award Leinsdorf 10 and Karajan 9.99 stars respectively. If we are to view 5 Stars as the absolute maximum award for all comers, then I guess the correct rating would be 3.5 to 4 stars.
Those for whom SACD is a prerequisite need not hesitate as I cannot envisualise the Janowski rivalling this set in overall quality, not least singing, and the Haenchen is just not in contention.
Highly recommended as a very enjoyable if slightly different take on the work, sounding a touch different from other recordings, and not only with no vocal weaknesses, but many vocal triumphs as well. I look forward to future instalments with restored entusiasm if not excitement. Stewart Crowe.
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on 12 February 2013
After Gergiev's marvellously recorded Parsifal, expectations are justifiably high for his Ring Cycle, to be released over the next year or so. This recording of Die Walkure may provide some clues about how the whole cycle will pan out, and in a way it is a brave move to release the most recorded part of the cycle first. The sound is good and clean, with supple strings and sonorous brass and wind: the acoustic is acceptable, with balance between orchestra and voices very well done. Overall, the reading is restrained, lyrical, poetic and at times, quite tender. Bombastic it is not. Tempi are unhurried. By and large, the principal singers give a fine account of themselves, and it is good to see that Gergiev has gone with the best of breed as far as current Wagner singers is concerned: what a shame that Thielemann and Bayreuth did not do the same! Kaufmann is now a well-known and established Siegmund, and he does not disappoint. Kampe partners him well through a steady rather than headlong Act 1, in particular. Pape is in fine clear voice, perhaps not quite as commanding on CD as on stage, but should develop into a fine Wotan. He lacks Terfel's expressive range or intensity, for sure. Stemme is predictably gorgeous as Brunnhilde: she has such a gloriously rich range that it is the sheer beauty of her voice that can occasionally draw one's attention away from the drama itself. Unusual among today's Brunnhildes! Petrenko is a light-voiced Hunding, and Gubanova a suitably hostile Fricka. Restrained is the word for this performance: it is not hectic in the style of Bohm or Keilberth: probably not as fine overall as Leinsdorf with Vickers and Nilsson in great voice: not as dramatic as Solti, or as beautifully observed as Karajan. But if it is a slowish reading of the work, and it is, there are numerous fine moments of high drama, with the scene between Brunnhilde and Siegmund being among the most notable, and when Gergiev lets his excellent orchestra have its head, there is plenty of muscle.
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on 17 March 2013
After listening to and comparing this new Walküre with the famous Leinsdorf recording I must admit that the Leinsdorf has more drive and foward propulsion.
This could partly be the result of the recording quality. It is surprisingly good for its age but as is to be expected one hears the main thrust of the music clearly but very few "Nebenstimmen" (undervoices). This gives the music a more linear foward movement, something that many fans of older recordings like. Nothing detracts from this main thrust. It therefore sounds more powerful. In general however, it does seem to be the case that Leinsdorf 's tempi are in general slightly faster.
BUT and it is a big BUT: One misses many details of the wonderful orchestration. One example: the famour ride of the Walkyries. On the Leinsdorf disc one hears the strings clearly and also the brass, when it appears. But hardly any woodwinds. Listen to the same passage with Gergiev and suddenly one hears high and shrill flutes, sort of circling around the main theme. This makes the ride a little less monumental perhaps but adds a different agressive and rather garish touch. I could give many other other examples and am surprised that no reviewers have commented on the way this recording illuminates Wagner's brilliance as an orchestrator. Wonderful winds where I have never really noticed them before. This alone makes this recording worthwhile.
Everyone seems to be preoccupied with the singing and the characterization ("Pape is no Wotan" says "Wotan"!!!). I actually find him moving.Compare the way he sings the passage in which he lists what Brünnhilde meant to him - personally and not as a god. London sound fierce and strict - not even a trace of tenderness. Pape sings like the tender but saddened father.
In conclusion the sheer qualiy of the recorded sound makes this recording worth having.
This is an aspect which has, in my opinion received too little attention from previous reviewers.
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on 2 August 2013
Jonas Kaufmann is a Sigmund we have waited for during many years.I heard James King in this role together with Leonie Rysanek as Sieglinde.King was a wonderful singer.Jonas Kaufmann is perhaps even more.His Sigmund is the best since the great Jon Vickers.Anja kampe is more sweet than Rysanek in the role of Sieglinde.René Pape is a great Wotan and he reminds me of the legendary singer George London.Nina Stemme is the best Brunnhilde since Birgit Nilsson.Stemme is a soprano in her own first class today.Stemme is not a copy of Nilsson.Stemme is unique.The best Brunnhildes comes from Sweden.I have always liked Gergiev.His orchestra is devoted to him and the music.
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on 29 August 2013
The advertisement to which I responded offered an mp3 version to be included at no extra charge, The CDs were in perfect condition, but I found no trace of mp3. I have attempted before to notify you of this, but have had no response. Perhaps this channel will be more productive.

Howard Douglass
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on 8 March 2013
From the moment it was announced, I have waited enthusiastically upon this release. While I would be the first to admit that Gergiev's Ring cycle, as heard at the ROH, was far from perfect, I have been a dedicated admirer of his Parsifal - also released on the Mariinsky label a few years ago. While that may never replace a number of other recordings that I hold and listen to repeatedly, it was certainly a Parsifal that I had happily added to them - for a number of reasons. One of these being that in Parsifal, Gergiev brings forth something new both from the score and text.

With this in mind, and a cast that included many of the leading performers of Wagner today - Kaufmann, Pape, Stemme, etc - it seemed that this Walkure would be one of the digital recordings of both this and even the last century. However, I am sad to report that it is not the recording either for which I hoped or indeed it could have been.

And the fault? Alas, the blame must lay firmly at the feet of conductor Valery Gergiev. Whereas, with his interpretation of Parsifal he managed to bring many new nuances from Wagner''s score and at the same time produced an "exciting" performance, with much "forward momentum" , here he not only fails to do this but instead produces a performance that would be kindly described as "restrained" and at worse "boring". - something up-to now I had thought impossible with Walkure. And this is not just to do with any restrained "tempos". To use a tirade of cliches, it lacks muscle, energy, excitement; while remaining limp, flaccid (why are terms used by music critics when describing the negative always so "Freudian"?) without any hope of a spark and, to be brutally honest, down-right dull. Even as I type, I am listening to Leb' wohl,. and it is simply "underwhelming", not even to be saved by the usually magnificent Pape. And this is a section of Walkure that I have rarely, if ever before in a recording, found to be so.

The cast work admirably within this structure but not even they can be truly considered to "save" this recording.

It really does sadden me to say so but, despite a "stellar" cast I would find it difficult to recommend this recording to anyone, especially those new to Wagner in particular.

I can only hope that Gergiev may learn from this recording,( although it must be added, many reviewers seemed to have enjoyed it) and he brings more "energy" to the rest of the Ring

Of modern "studio" recordings, despite their various flaws, I would recommend any of the "usual suspects" Although my preferred choice of Ring cycles would have to remain the live Bohm from 1966, from whose strong forward momentum and general "energy" (whether you like the tempos or not is not that relevant) Gergiev could learn much. Parsifal is Parsifal, Walkure is Walkure.
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on 14 February 2013
It's really problematic how to rate this recording. By modern standards, it is very decent and even better. However, if you give 5 stars to recordings like Solti's, this can't compete at all. 3 stars then - "it's ok", as Amazon puts it. But it is important to remember that "ok" is a very rare and exciting situation for a recent Wagnerian recording, since most of them are just terrible.
Jonas Kaufmann's Siegmund is already known from other recordings. He gives a lyrical interpretation that dangerously borders with melodrama, which is probably not the best thing for Wagner, but if you take it, he is admirable. Anja Kampe meets one's expectations as Sieglinde and probably even surpasses them. Nina Stemme is surely one of the best Brünnhildes around, and here she gives a heart-warming interpretation of the title character. I found René Pape's Wotan rather restricted and even boring to my taste, yet he has what many recent Wotans lack - dignity.
The weakest part of the recording is, sadly, Gergiev. His conducting is, of course, very professional, but it is just not interesting at all. He doesn't kill the music, though.

I would never recommend this recording as your first, second, third - and, let's face it, even tenth - "Die Walküre". But if you are interested in Wagner's music (and already have listened to at least some of recordings like Solti, Karajan, Böhm, Keilberth, Krauss, Furtwängler, Leinsdorf, Knappertsbusch etc), you will surely be interested in what Wagnerian singing is like today. Good news - it isn't hopeless! Let's hope Wagner's anniversary will give us more interesting recordings, of this level and higher.
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on 14 July 2013
Kaufmann is downright amazing. I have heard him caress his way through Carmen and give fresh, new meaning to Puccini...so wonderful to hear a once in a lifetime tenor with us again (with delightful baritone shading) who can also rip and tear his way through Wagner. Domingo had/has this duality and now we have Kaufmann. A magnificent blending of voice, interpretation..and the guy can even act!
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on 23 February 2013
Well, alright, it's not got the ultimate degree of passion but then one doesn't always want Wagner at white heat. The singing is much better than what passes for Wagner these days (compare, say, the Halle recording), very much so in the case of Stemme, Kaufmann and Pape, and if you revel in Wagner's orchestration it's a good recording to have. I'd have preferred a slightly more open acoustic, perhaps. I'm glad to have it on the shelf and suspect I may be listening again more frequently than first hearing suggests.
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on 20 May 2013
An excellent production - you will not be disappointed. The orchestra and singers are first class. The music is of course well known - nothing more to add
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