Simone Young took over as Music Director of the Hamburg
State Opera from Ingo Metzmacher in 2005. On the present
evidence, she is doing sterling work. Jim Pritchard reviewed
a performance of this very music-drama with the present
forces for Seen and Heard
. Much of what he said is borne out aurally here,
especially in terms of Young’s confident authority. We
are just given the recording date of “March 2008”, so one
cannot know if this is exactly the same performance, or
indeed what level of inter-performance patching was used.
All roles with the exception of two come from the bosom
of the Hamburg State Opera. The exceptions are Falk Struckmann
- already well known for his Wagner - and Wolfgang Koch,
a name new to me.
Simone Young coaxes some lovely playing from her Hamburg
players. The opening sounds of the Rhine are appropriately
primordial – here is a fluctuating primal soup populated
by a group creamy-toned horn players interweaving their
ascending arpeggios and this whole passage is exceptionally
well recorded, with plenty of space and clarity; the held-breath
interlude between Scenes 1 and 2 contains some simply magical
playing - from all orchestral departments - before ushering
in contained majesty. The entrance of the giants is managed
with great unanimity of attack and with great depth - approaching
Janowski on the old Eurodisc cycle. Most impressive, perhaps,
is the way Young moulds the fourth and final scene, carefully
grading climaxes with the end clearly in mind and according
Alberich’s curse on the Ring its full and deserved weight.
The return of the giants is magnificently played, by the
Hamburg horn section in particular, and her long-range
preparations make up for any weaknesses in Jan Buchwald’s
Donner. The thunder-clap is exquisitely managed in the
balance of timpani against emerging, scurrying lower strings
three Rhinemaidens, Ha Young Lee, Gabriele Rossmanith and
Ann-Beth Solvang are each and every one a strong singer,
confident of delivery in the opening scene. “Their” Alberich
is Wolfgang Koch, whom Simone Young refers to as having
a major international breakthrough in his career with this
very recording. Koch is remarkably characterful without
degrading into old-school over acting. If the Rhinemaidens
just miss the ecstasy of the ensemble “Rheingold!” statements
(track 5), Lee’s “Nur wer der Minne Macht versagt” carries
a huge weight of meaning whose trajectory directly leads
to the ensemble Rhinemaidens’ final, pre-curse cry. When
the forswearing of love comes from Alberich (Koch), it,
too, carries an equivalent weight both from Koch and from
the accompanying orchestral forces.
The role of Wotan is taken by Falk Struckmann, who is
rather widely vibratoed and does not quite carry the solemn,
commanding gait of a true Wotan (he is Wotan, too, in the
). His “Abendlich strahlt der Sonne Auge” almost
redeems him, though. Katka Pieweck, as Fricka, is a name
new to me but I hope to renew acquaintance shortly. Pieweck
has a lovely voice, is full of confidence and fully within
her part at all times, and it is she that carries the long
Scene 2 Wotan/Fricka dialogue. Tigran Martirossian’s Fasolt
oozes authority; Alexander Tsymbalyuk’s Fafner a touch
less so – one is aware of his careful way with words and
intervals. Try “Neue Neidtat sinnt uns der Niblung”; also,
his “Fort von hier sei sie erführt!” towards the end of
Scene 2 is frankly weak and approximate.
Peter Galliard’s Loge is light but again not over-characterised.
It is not as confident initially as I would have liked.
By the time of his commentary on the Gods’ ageing, though,
he seems much more part of the drama and, in tandem with
Young’s excellent sculpting of Wagner’s magnificently “suspended” orchestration,
this section becomes truly involving. Galliard is superb
in his Scene 3 interactions with Mime, and Young ensures
her forces react with lightning reflexes to Wagner’s many
changes of mood. Sacher (Mime) matches Galliard in every
way here; Koch (Alberich) is completely believable in his
role of tin-pot dictator. Only in the opening salvoes of
Scene 4 does Koch lose some focus; as if to compensate,
it is here that Young’s concentration becomes even more
laser-like, and the drama unfolds grippingly nevertheless.
Deborah Humble’s Erda might not be the most contralto-ish
on disc but it carries real weight of authority, especially
in the warnings of “Höre!”.
The lavish booklet contains a 30-page introductory article
by Udo Bermbach, which doubles as exposition of Wagner’s
and full text and translation – but no biographies of singers.
There are also many full colour stills from the production
This is a thoroughly enjoyable Rheingold
at every stage born of the stage and not the studio. The
cast work well together – as well they might, given that
the vast majority hails from Hamburg State Opera. I look
forward to future instalments.