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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


 

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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Die Walküre (1870)
Robert Gambill (tenor) – Siegmund; Attila Jun (bass) – Hunding; Jan-Hendrik Rootering (bass) – Wotan; Angela Denoke (soprano) – Sieglinde; Renate Behle (soprano) – Brünnhilde; Tichina Vaughn (mezzo) – Fricka; Eva-Maria Westbroek (soprano) – Gerhilde; Wiebke Göetjes (soprano) – Ortlinde; Stella Kleindienst (mezzo) – Waltraute; Helene Ranada (contralto) – Schwertleite; Magdalena Schäfer (soprano) – Helmwige; Nidia Palacios (mezzo) – Siegrune; Maria Theresa Ullrich (contralto) – Grimgerde; Margit Diefenthal (contralto) – Rossweise; Staatsoper Stuttgard
Staatsorchester Stuttgart/Lothar Zagrosek
rec. live, Staatstheater Stuttgart, Germany, 29 September 2002, 2 January 2003. DDD
NAXOS 8.660172-74 [3 CDs: 67:37 + 79:04 + 77:20]

 

There is a plethora of complete Ring cycles available. More are on the way. Besides a number of more or less unofficial recordings, over-the-air or live, we have studio sets from Solti, Karajan, Janowski, Haitink and Levine and an unfinished one by Dohnanyi, Bayreuth sets from Böhm, Boulez and Barenboim, a Munich set by Sawallisch, Testament are releasing the first stereo Ring from Bayreuth, Gustav Kuhn on Arte Nova appeared a couple of years ago, Australian Melba released Die Walküre in stunning SACD sound just months ago and Das Rheingold is due this autumn. Here is the second instalment in the Naxos Stuttgart Ring, under the experienced Lothar Zagrosek. Das Rheingold, which I haven’t heard, wasn’t too well received, mainly due to uneven singing, but with a totally different line-up, including some well-known dramatic artists, this Walküre was eagerly anticipated. I am afraid the expectations are only partially fulfilled. The set isn’t quite new; it was recorded in 2002-2003 and first appeared on DVD, where the visual elements obviously did a lot to make it attractive. Recorded live in a production that sounds intense enough we have to endure stage noises. These bangs and booms have a tendency to reproduce more prominently than the music proper. The sound is however full and well defined and the balance permits the voices to be projected clearly enough while the orchestra still makes its impact. The stereo image is wide and one feels almost surrounded by the music although it is a traditional two-channel recording.

The hero of the set is undoubtedly the conductor, just as was the case with the Melba recording, where Asher Fisch drew marvellous playing and intense orchestral drama from his excellent musicians. Zagrosek likewise keeps the music on the move, giving a thrilling start to the opera with a fairly fast and admirably dynamic storm prelude and a thunderous climax. Later in the act he gives a lyric and loving treatment to the all-important Siegmund-Sieglinde scene and encourages the lovers to scale down their singing to more intimate proportions. In the following acts he also keeps a grip on the tension with an especially impressive Ride of the Walküre.

All his principals are well inside their roles and I can imagine this to have been a fine evening in the theatre. Without the visual element one can still hear many good intentions, some of them better realized than others. Robert Gambill, whose reputation as a Heldentenor has rapidly grown, has an attractive voice, youthful, bright with a quick vibrato and none of the dryness that often afflicts singers who have been living for some time on too unbalanced a Wagnerian diet. He nuances well, Winterstürme (CD1 tr. 10) in particular, and his cries of Wölse, Wölse (CD1 tr. 8) are intense. All too often however he presses too hard and the tone becomes ugly. He also has a tendency to squeeze the tone, making it pinched. Still it is nice to hear so fresh-voiced a Siegmund. I hope he can continue his career in this dangerous field without damaging his voice. Stuart Skelton on the Melba set has more uninhibited resources and feels more secure. Angela Denoke is a tremendous actress and she throws herself whole-heartedly into Sieglinde’s role, singing with great involvement. Sadly she is not ideally steady and the tone tends to become throaty. Des seimigen Metes süssen Trank mögst du mir nicht verschmähn (CD1 ca. 7:30 into tr. 2) is beautifully sung in pianissimo and she can be very sensitive to nuances elsewhere, too. Attila Jun is a menacing Hunding, spitting out his consonants.

In the second act we meet the stern and dark-toned Wotan of Jan-Hendrik Rootering. His is a deeply involved reading but the tone is lacklustre. Without reaching the heights of Tomlinson or Bröcheler on recent sets he delineates an honest portrait of the God. Renate Behle has lost a little of the steadiness and beauty of tone I remember from almost fifteen years ago but she has still got the requisite power and steely top notes to make her Hojotoho! ring out impressively. Overall she is a good Brünnhilde, especially moving in the final scene with Wotan. A couple of years ago she abandoned soprano roles and now concentrates on mezzo-soprano repertoire. Among the eight Valkyries there are a couple of wobblers but Eva-Maria Westbroek’s Gerhilde sings her Hojotoho with such abandon that one can imagine her taking on Brünnhilde before too long.

Neither challenging the established recommendations among Walküre recordings nor the recent excellent Melba recording, this version can still give pleasure. Retailing at budget price it is a modest investment for someone who wants to get to know this endlessly fascinating opera. A German libretto can be found on-line but Keith Anderson provides a good synopsis which gives the gist of the proceedings.

Göran Forsling

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