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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Götterdämmerung (1869-1874)
Alan Woodrow (Siegfried), Eva Silberbauer (Brunhilde), Herbert Adami (Gunther), Duccio dal Monte (Hagen), Gertrud Ottenthal (Gutrune), Ewa Polak (Waltraute), Andrea Martin (Alberich), Julia Oesch (1st Norn), Sabine Willeit (2nd Norn), Eva Maria Tersson (3rd Norn), Hiroko Kouda (Woglinde), Junko Saito (Wellgunde), Taeka Hino (Flosshilde).
Chor and Orchester der Tiroler Festpiele, Singers of the Accademia di Montegral
Conducted by Gustav Kühn
(Recorded live at the Tiroler Festspiele, Erl, Austria on July 15 & 22 2000)
Arte Nova 74321 80775 2 [4 CDs: 238.17]


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This is the third release in Arte Nova’s bargain basement Ring recorded "live" at the Tyrol Festival and conducted by the businesslike Gustav Kühn. I reviewed Siegfried Nov00 and Das Rheingold is also available with just Die Walküre to go, presumably next year. There is no doubt that there has been a need for a bargain priced stereo Ring for many years and this cycle does have virtues, though it also has a number of vices which the present issue illustrates.

You will notice that I used the word "businesslike" to describe the conducting of Gustav Kühn and this principally shows itself in his choice of a very fast overall tempo in the long stretches of this massive opera. In fact this may well be the fastest Götterdämmerung on record. Faster even than Boulez on Philips (434 424-2), but Boulez has the advantage over Kühn of a keener intelligence, better singers, director and the Bayreuth tradition behind him. There are certainly times when these tempi from Kühn bring a gain in drama and excitement, though. For example the build up to the entry of Siegfried in Act I means that when our hero does arrive the tension has become palpable. On the whole, however, such brisk tempi rob the more reflective passages of their mystery and power and the whole of its cumulative charge. Wagner is both peaks and troughs; both must cohere. Here it is as if Kühn wants it all to be peaks where the troughs bore him rather. A case in point would be the scene at the start of Act 2 known as "Hagen’s Watch" where Hagen’s father Alberich appears to probe into Hagen’s innermost being giving us one of Wagner’s most elemental scenes. All sense of the dark dread that lies over Wagner’s marvellous writing for the voices is lost when the singers have to keep up with this pace. But Siegfried’s Narration in Act 3 is lyrical enough and quite moving. On the whole the "scratch" festival orchestra acquit themselves well and accurately considering they were recorded "on the wing" and they play better than they did in the recording of Siegfried from last year. But don’t expect Vienna Philharmonic or Bayreuth Festival standards. This orchestra is lacking in the kind of "saturation tone" that Wagner really needs and which the Philharmonics of Vienna or Berlin can deliver.

Of the singers the tenor Alan Woodrow is again the most impressive as Siegfried. He has one matchless asset for a singer in this role in that he doesn’t appear to tire and whilst there is still some way to go before he shows signs of whether he will rise to the elect, I enjoyed his performance very much. I have already drawn attention to his narration which, after all, comes quite late in the evening. We have a different Brunhilde this year in Eva Silberbauer. This is a pity as her voice lacks firm foundation and soon becomes a trial, most especially in the Immolation Scene at the end of Act 3 where she is clearly struggling. A case of "too much too soon" for this singer, I think, and I am not at all sure that she has really thought deeply enough into the nature of her role either. When she is matched with the Waltraute of Ewa Polak in their great scene one of Wagner’s greatest inspirations in spoilt by the shortcomings of both singers as well as the fact that Polak sounds more like Brunhilde’s mother than her sister. This scene itself was clearly directed on stage to be mobile too, as there are times when the voices are almost lost to the microphones. This kind of thing is always a problem when taping "live" and how much of a problem it is to the person listening all depends on how much you like "live" performances. I like them very much and had the two singers been much better I would have happily put up with their perambulations. There are stage noises elsewhere but nothing to get too concerned about if, as I say, you like "live" recordings. The rest of the cast is adequate enough but inevitably any experienced Wagnerite starts to compare them with others on record. Unfair, perhaps, but inevitable. You should also be aware that the booklet contains only a libretto in German with no translation.

I really cannot escape the belief that Wagner is not a bargain basement composer and if modern stereo sound is what you demand you may need to pay more for a Ring cycle that will serve this great work better than this. However, for around the same price as this developing cycle you can buy a truly great "live" Bayreuth set conducted by Clemens Krauss (Gala 100 654) with a superb cast and only mono sound to get in the way.

Those who are collecting Gustav Kühn’s bargain Ring cycle will be pleased to know this is certainly up to the standard of the Siegfried but, though I enjoyed it well enough, I doubt I will return often to it.

Tony Duggan

 


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