If you find Janowski a bit too exciting, then this Gergiev Mariinsky Rheingold is for you. There is nothing actually wrong with it, save some diction issues with Freia, some rather odd sudden volume changes, especially at the entrance of Fafner and Fasolt (which is taken at a wonderfully slow huge tread), and some rather clumsy playing from the principal trumpet. The pluses are the imperious Wotan of Rene Pape, sounding a lot like the young Tomlinson but without the bark, a very fine Fricka, and a sensuous Erda, good Rhinemaidens and overall reasonably fine orchestral playing (but see above). The rest is, well, average. I personally found Loge's voice irritating and Mime sounded very, well, abused! It is possible that the final verdict on Gergiev's Wagner conducting should wait until this Ring Cycle is complete but so far, I do not find his reading of the Ring to date as compulsive as his Parsifal, nor as well rounded nor, dare I say, as beautiful sonically. There are many finer versions of Rheingold around, including Simone Young's Hamburg recording, Thielemann's Bayreuth recording, plus of course the superlative Solti/Vienna set which remains, amazingly, a benchmark. Karajan too is good; Keilberth's Bayreuth recording is slightly marred by odd stage sounds; Barenboim's Bayreuth reading is also excellent; other great readings are invariably now available just as parts of the complete Cycle. Meanwhile the Gergiev set is a bit in the middle of the pack right now, but maybe his Siegfried and Gotterdammerung will be rather more epic: let's hope so. However, having just sat through the excruciatingly awful Castorf/Bayreuth Ring, it is fair to say that I found the clarity and sobriety of Gergiev to be not totally unwelcome!
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