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Richard WAGNER

Alan Woodrow, Elisabeth-Maria Wachutka, Juha Uusitalo,
Thomas Harper, Andrea Martin, Julia Oesch, Ziaoliang Li,
Hiroko Kouda, Singers of the Accademia di Montegral,
Orchester der Tiroler Festspiele
Conducted by Gustav Kuhn
Arte Nova Classics 74321 72116 2 [229.18]

This recording is taken from "live" performances at the Tiroler Festival in Erl in 1999 and is the second instalment of what will be a complete super-bargain Ring from Arte Nova conducted by Gustav Kuhn. (Das Rheingold is already out though I haven't heard it.) With Wagner operas frequently coming expensive that has to be especially welcome for CD shoppers on limited budgets. Inevitably there are sacrifices to be made, however. I imagine few, if any, of the names in the cast will be familiar and Kuhn himself is not a conductor whose name trips off the tongue where Wagner performances are discussed. But don't let any of that put you off if you are looking for an inexpensive solution to buying a complete stereo Ring and are prepared to do without stellar names and performances and wait for the final two instalments. For one thing there is much to be gained from the "live" experience in dramatic edge, even if you do have to put up with some stage noise and passages where the singers are further away from microphones than they would be under ideal studio conditions.

Gustav Kuhn is a sympathetic and intelligent Wagnerian, good as an accompanist to his singers who, not possessed of the power or insight of some of their more illustrious colleagues, benefit from the lighter touch he gives them. However, in the crucial Act I "question and answer" session between Mime and the Wanderer Kuhn didn't really recognise that in this scene the orchestra must act like a third character, a kind of Greek chorus commenting on the vital matters on the surface and therefore providing us with illustration of what is going on beneath. The greatest Wagnerians (Furtwangler, Krauss or Knappertsbusch) achieve this supremely but you have the impression this has to be learned by today's interpreters and Kuhn falls some way short. It's a pity he's not blessed with a greater orchestra than this as well. With the best will in the world they can only be described as second-rate, lacking especially a flexibility of tone. But then the Rome Radio Orchestra under Furtwangler on EMI (where "Siegfried" is only available as part of the complete Ring) are hardly the greatest in the world either even though Furtwangler makes them play as if they think they are and there lies the difference. Kuhn does get his orchestra to shape quite well, though, the mood pictures that the three Preludes are meant to convey . But the Magic Fire Music in Act III is a bit damp. More scout camp than Valhalla.

Juha Uusitalo is much under-powered as The Wanderer. Though brought low by the great events this is still Wotan himself and a sense of majesty and, if only pent-up, dominance over the other characters must come over. In key scenes with Mime, Erda and Siegfried Uusitalo is much less the great, though fatally wounded, god than he really should be. I did like the Mime of Thomas Harper, though. Wheedling, hammy Mimes of the past may impress on first or second hearing, but in recordings at home they can become wearing. The greatest Mime on record who tries for something subtler than Gerhard Stolze, say, for Solti and Karajan that I know is Peter Schreier in the recording conducted by Marek Janowski. Schreier brings a lieder singer's intelligence triumphantly to the part and Harper comes from that direction at least.

Alan Woodrow is quite an impressive Siegfried. In "live" performance like this I was hard put to notice any signs of real strain in his singing. Even the Forging Scene has him unflagging, for example. However, his German diction needs some more work throughout and he lacks the experience greater colleagues like Windgassen of Suthaus bring to the role. His confrontation with the Dragon also suffers from the fact that Xiaoliang Li's Fafner wouldn't frighten a baby on this showing. When Siegfried finally kills him the feeling is that your maiden Aunt could have done the job with a swing of her crocheted handbag. In the final love duet in Act III with the woken Brunhilde Woodrow also maintains himself well. Remember here that Brunhilde gets up from her sleep as fresh as a daisy whilst Siegfried has already been hard at it for the whole evening. In this recording Brunhilde is sung by Elisabeth-Maria Wachutka who sounds suitably and refreshingly young and, in keeping with the rest of her colleagues, is not a heavy-voiced singer. Andrea Martin's Alberich is a real weak link, it must be said. Brought up and spoiled, as all Wagnerians are, on singers like Gustav Neidlinger in this part it takes a special artist to come up to that standard.

The recorded sound is lacking in richness and has the tendency to glare with some rather uncultured brass sound but in all does convey the feeling of "being there" which is all you could ask for. The booklet contains a complete German libretto but no translation. Presumably this would have driven up the price but is a loss to the kind of listener who might buy this recording.

To an extent you get what you pay for and certainly if you pay more for a Siegfried you will do better in almost every area. However there is enough to enjoy and admire and at the price this developing "bargain basement" Ring is still a welcome addition to the catalogue.


Tony Duggan



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