Top positive review
29 people found this helpful
Shame about some of the singing
on 20 November 2009
I was at Bayreuth for this production of the Ring and was, like virtually all of the audience, transfixed by Thielemann's extraordinary grasp of the entire score and the orchestra's quite stunning realisation of Thielemann's vision. At the end of the Cycle, it was the orchestra that received the greatest ovation - and justifiably so. It was, therefore, with keen anticipation that I sat down to play this set. Orchestrally, I was not disappointed, not at all, in fact: the playing and Thielemann are as fine as I recall and probably the finest on record. Every dramatic turn is delivered with appropriate weight; pacing is near ideal throughout; sonically the recording has the depth and richness I recall from the performances - and is less 'engineered' than the Barenboim Cycle. If I could, I would give orchestra and conductor at least six stars.
But the cast is just too variable for this set to be singled out as 'the' Ring for all time. Rather as in his 'Tristan' recording, Thielemann's cast is the weak link: of those who are good, Mime, Hagen, Sieglinde, Fricka, Loge, and Gutrune stand out; of those who are acceptable, Wotan, Waltaute, most of the Rhinemaidens and Norns, and Hunding qualify. Which leaves some pretty important problem areas: Gould's Siegfried is a 'nice bloke', perfectly harmless, not remotely heroic, and often struggling to be heard. Linda Watson's Brunnhilde is just terrible - and she didn't seem so on stage - the vibrato is painful and consistently pumped out well beyond the listener's pain threshold, and utterly relentless. And she screams, just to give us an extra dose of pleasure all round. On top of which, she sounds strangely old-fashioned and 'wobbly' in the more sotto voce sections.
In sum, no Ring recording can have real lasting merit if the three principal actors, Wotan, Brunnhilde and Siegfried all fall below acceptable standards; if Alberich and Siegmund don't deliver the goods either, then there are real problems. That is, unfortunately, the case here. So, why even give the recording four stars? The answer is that when Brunnhilde isn't singing, the rest of the cast is just tolerable at worst and at times very good: but always the music is more consistently epic and overwhelming than I have ever heard it before - either on record or on stage.