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Gergiev constructs a Rheingold of inexorable power and grandeur that is exquistely sung and played, rivalling the very best.
on 16 October 2013
Having rushed to judgement with the first instalment of this cycle, I have taken a long, hard listen to this set to ensure that I was not carried away by my enthusiasm of hearing the work so beautifully sung as I was with Gergiev's Walkure. Longer acquaintance with that set has brought home to me that despite the undoubted beauty -by modern standards-of the singing and playing, and the excellent recording-those who found it lacking in drama have a good case. It is a bit staid in its overall characterisation, and perhaps 4 stars would have been a more realistic appraisal.
I am delighted to advise that there are no such reservations with Das Rheingold, which is again beautifully sung and even better played and recorded. Certainly, Gergiev takes a measured and darker approach to this work than many, but I feel that he captures the essence of it wonderfully.
Many observers bemoan the homogenisation of orchestral sound that has developed over the last 40 years-where are those horns that sounded like saxophones in French orchestras and the braying, tinny brass of Slavic orchestras?-but it is fair to observe that the former Kirov orchestra does maintain some of the characteristics of Russian orchestras that use to endear and exasperate in equal measure. There is still the slight sharp edge to the trumpets (though the horns are wonderful) and a metallic glint to the strings that let us know we're not in Germany! This is an observation not a criticism as the playing on this set is one of its finest features, and the recording is spacious with a wide dynamic range.
The cast is all Russian bar Wotan and Loge, sung here by René Pape and Stephan Rugamer respectively. Pape captures well the nobility and lofty insouciance of the young Wotan, for which character his voice is ideal, better suited than in Walkure and Rugamer provides a well sung, intelligent Loge, full of character and lyrical beauty offset by a real sense of lurking danger.
His "who knows what I'll do?" carriers real menace.
Nikolai Putilin was the most terrifying of Klingsors on Gergiev's Parsifal, and here he gives us a fiery, bad tempered Alberich which is well sung and well acted, especially in the curse scene.
There is a trend nowadays to make Alberich totally unsympathetic as he is here, but my own view is that was not what Wagner intended. He was fond of this character -the first scene in Act 2 of Siegfried is totally unnecessary in terms of the drama, but Wagner wanted to bring back a character for whom he had affection-the little man from the dark depths who craved acceptance in the upper echelons of the light but was rejected, duped and humiliated for all his ambition!
Neidlinger captures this to perfection, as do Pernerstofer, Nimsgern, and Wlaschica but only Wolfgang Koch seems currently to following this style of injecting some sardonic humour into Alberich.
Nevertheless, it's a great performance and unlike Schmuckenbecher for Janowski, he sings the role with assured steadiness.
The giants are mightily impressive as one would expect from Evegeny Nikitin and Mikhael Petrenko, and Gergiev ushers them in with a lumbering massively slow tread that outdoes even Furtwangler for sheer imposing weight, but he picks up the tempo for Fasolt's narration. Donner and Froh are good, though Sergei Semishkur has a classic pinched and nasal Russian tenor voice which takes one aback-but he sings well and ushers the Gods over the Rainbow Bridge beautifully.
The women are ALL excellent-in tune, mellifluous-and very Russian sounding in a good way!
Gubanova's Fricka is a very intelligent, powerful Goddess who is bitingly scornful and Bulycheva's Erda is one the finest I've heard-full of foreboding and power, while wonderfully alluring.
The Rhinemaidens are a very feisty bunch of sirens, very much "in your face" in the concert recording, but they sing with beauty and allure. The Mime and Freia make much of their smaller parts.
From the inexorable dark flowing waters of Gergiev's Rhine in the prelude through to the hair raising climax, the conductor adopts a style that reminds one time and time again of Rudolf Kempe.
Measured, controlled -and breathtakingly beautiful. Grand moments are just that-the descent to Nibelhiem (great anvils!), Donner's summoning of the winds, the Rainbow Bridge with all 6 harps clearly audible and the introduction of the sword motif as Wotan greets the castle-ALL are spectacular.
Other reviewers have commentated on a lack of excitement, and certainly if compared to Solti's "a climax every 2 minutes" approach (which I love!) that is an accurate observation. What it does have is an overwhelming sense of the architecture of the work, an inexorable slow descent into the tragic events which will ultimately lead to the destruction of the Gods, a hollow grandeur permeated with bitter irony and in that sense it evokes memories of not just Kempe but of Knappertsbusch.
Audience presence is all but undetectable, and some of the dramatic effects are either a bit tame (Donner's hammer blow) or absent (the screams of terror of the scattering Nibelungs)-but they are not in the score and are no more than common stage and recording practice so perhaps we should not complain.
This is in a different league from the recent mediocre Janowski recording, and is a different take on the work from the likes of Solti, Bohm, Karajan and Simone Young, all of which are superb.
The new Thielemann Vienna recording tops this one for me, but is not available as a "stand alone" option, but the Gergiev Rheingold joins the ranks of the very best and I have enjoyed and will to continue to enjoy returning to it. Highly recommended with 5 Stars. Stewart Crowe.