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.
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.
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.
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.
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.