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Richard WAGNER (1813 – 1883): Götterdämmerung, highlights
Dawn; Willst du mir Minne schenken – Lass ich, Liebste, dich hier – Durch deine Tugend allein (Brünnhilde, Siegfried) – Siegfried’s Rhein Journey
Act I: Höre mit Sinn, was ich dir sage! (Waltraute)
Act II: Hoiho! Ihr Gibichmannen (Hagen) – Was tost das Horn? (Chorus) – Rüstet euch wohl (Hagen, Chorus) – Heil dir, Gunther! (Chorus, Gunther)
Act III: Brünnhilde! Heilige Braut! (Siegfried) – Funeral March; Starke Scheite schichtet mir dort – O ihr, der Eide ewige Hüter! – Mein Erbe nun nehm’ ich zu eigen – Fliegt heim, ihr Raben! – Grane, mein Ross, sei mir gegrüsst! (Brünnhilde) – Zurück vom Ring (Hagen)
Siegfried Jerusalem (tenor) – Siegfried; Bodo Brinkmann (baritone) – Gunther; Philip Kang (bass) – Hagen; Anne Evans (soprano) – Brünnhilde; Waltraud Meier (mezzo-soprano) – Waltraute; Chorus and Orchestra from the Bayreuth Festival/Daniel Barenboim
Recorded in the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, June, July 1992
WARNER APEX 2564 61513-2 [73:18]
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Making a selection of "pieces" from any Wagner opera, and especially from the Ring operas, is a more or less impossible task, especially if the purpose is to give a good picture of the work as a whole. The choice on this well-filled disc is as good as any, and one has to applaud the ambition to avoid "bleeding chunks" and instead give us a few longer sequences. The back-cover lists eighteen tracks, but in reality there are only six excerpts, and they could have been reduced further. From the Prologue we have the orchestral interlude, known as "dawn", which separates the first part of the prologue from the concluding Brünnhilde – Siegfried duet, starting with the words Zu neuen Taten. Here they have excised that first half and start with Brünnhilde’s Willst du mir Minne schenken. In an ideal world I would have liked the duet to have been unbroken from Dawn to the end of the Prologue. Then we could have been saved the very blunt end to the dawn music. I would think, though, that most half-Wagnerians will feel satisfied with the choice of items. Full blood-Wagnerians will of course need a complete recording. This review is not for them.

What about the execution of the music? Barenboim is one of the leading Wagner conductors of our time, having by now completed the recording of the ten mature music-dramas. Solti also did, but who else? Recording Wagner at Bayreuth, in the Festspielhaus, has great advantages. The famous acoustics and the orchestra, not least. We do get superb playing, it is well balanced, thanks to producer John Mordler and his team as well as the Festspielhaus itself. The brass is impressive in the dawn music and the strings so silken in the final scene. Barenboim’s tempos are so right. I haven’t heard the complete recording so I don’t know how the performance hangs together but the individual items are beyond reproach. There are some stage noises, but they don’t distract much from the music.

The conductor, it is often said, is the most important participant in an opera performance, less so, though, in a highlights disc like this. Most people will judge it on the merit of the singers. They are good, no doubt, and no one is likely to feel short-changed if he/she buys it. Siegfried Jerusalem in 1992 still retained a lot of his basically lyrical voice, his declamation is keen, but there is also a harsh quality to the voice, the result, no doubt, of a natural Lohengrin and Walther singing too many Tristans and Siegfrieds. It is a powerful voice, which has expanded since he first appeared in the late 1970s. In the death scene he also scales it down to good effect, singing with real feeling.

His Brünnhilde is Anne Evans, and she has to be rated as one of the best of latter day Walküres. Her voice is big and mezzo-ish and it has considerable warmth. It is not dissimilar to her sister’s, Waltraute’s, voice, at least when, as here, she is sung by Waltraud Meier, who turns in a good interpretation of her act I narration.

Of the lower male voices we don’t hear much, but from the little we hear we can conclude that Philip Kang (please, Warner, his name is Kang, not King as stated on the back cover and in the booklet!) has a big voice which can sound menacing. Bodo Brinkmann’s Gunther is manly and incisive but not very subtle. Günther von Kannen’s Alberich is completely absent from this disc, although his name is on the cover. It seems that someone at Warner didn’t listen too carefully to the finished product. The booklet has a synopsis, "The Story", but no references as to what is actually to be heard on the disc.

I will definitely return to this disc, for the wonderful playing of the orchestra, for the intensity and, in the death scene, for the poetry of Jerusalem and for Evans’ warmth. I still think Windgassen and Nilsson, for both Böhm and Solti, recorded in the distant 1960s, are preferable; even further back in history Flagstad’s Immolation scene with Furtwängler is unforgettable. True Wagnerians will need several recordings to be satisfied, but they stopped reading this after the first paragraph.

Göran Forsling

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