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Richard WAGNER (1813–1883)
Die Walküre (1870)
John Keyes (tenor) – Siegmund; Kurt Rydl (bass) – Hunding; Albert Dohmen (bass-baritone) – Wotan; Charlotte Margiono (soprano) – Sieglinde; Linda Watson (soprano) – Brünnhilde; Doris Soffel (mezzo) – Fricka; Dorothy Grandia (soprano) – Gerhilde; Ellen van Haaren (soprano) – Ortlinde; Natascha Petrinsky (mezzo) – Waltraute; Hebe Dijkstra (contralto) – Schwertleite; Turid Karlsen (soprano) – Helmwige; Irene Pieters (mezzo) – Siegrune; Marina Prudenskaja (contralto) – Grimgerde; Qiu Lin Zhang (contralto) – Rossweisse; Nederlands Philharmonisch Orkest/Hartmut Haenchen
rec. live, De Nederlandse Opera, September 2005
ETCETERA KTC 5501 [4 CDs: 62:44 + 53:31 + 35:09 + 67:21]

Last year I reviewed the complete Ring cycle from De Nederlandse Opera on DVD. It was a fascinating production with the orchestra centre-stage and the singers acting on a very sparsely decorated running track around the orchestra. At first I thought that this was just a CD reissue of that 1999 recording. However it turned out have to been recorded in 2005 at the first revival of the Pierre Audi-directed production. From the original cast only John Keyes’ Siegmund and Kurt Rydl’s malevolent Hunding have survived, thus this recording makes for interesting comparisons. On the other hand one reacts differently to a production which presents the visual elements rather than a sound-only recording. That was probably the reason why I never mentioned, when reviewing the DVDs, that this was the first recording to follow the Neue Richard-Wagner-Gesamtausgabe, where all the comments and notes by Wagner’s assistants at the first Bayreuth production in 1876 have been incorporated.
On this CD issue this becomes more important insofar as some cobwebs have been blown away. First of all this very often means that tempos are on the swift side. ‘Never drag! Dialogue! It’s not an aria!’ was only one remark that shows Wagner’s ideal. ‘Clarity’ was another. And this is what Haenchen strives for. It is still a powerful reading. Just as on the DVDs the orchestra can sometimes drench the singers. The score is however more transparent, more Mendelssohnian in a way, if this doesn’t sound too offensive to die-hard Wagnerians. It is a little like a careful restoration of an old painting, which has darkened through the decades: the restorer hasn’t removed anything of the substance or altered the balance but there is still a different lustre. Hartmut Haenchen, better known as a specialist in earlier music, seems to be the right conductor for this reconstruction.
That said this approach is not always to the good. The prelude is energetic and pulsating machine-like; ‘too streamlined’ I wrote in the DVD review. Likewise the Ride of the Walküre is swift, light, well articulated – nothing of the craggy medieval landscape of Furtwängler, rather a sun-drenched scene with joyous birdsong. Not that I mind; I can take both approaches. I do admire the incandescence of Haenchen’s reading, which pays dividends through most of the opera.
When it comes to the singing Wagner’s comments very often concern emotions: ‘As through telling a story, impersonally’ or ‘very simply, with no expression of emotion’ or ‘without any sentimentality’. This is sometimes directly contrary to the very detailed instructions in the printed score where ‘deeply affected’, ‘highest emotion’ or ‘highest anguish’ are recurring directions. What is evident in this recording is how often the singers really scale down, sing softly. John Keyes as Siegmund is poetic and nuanced and sings much better here than on the DVDs but the irritating beat is still there and sometimes lessens the impact of his well considered reading. When opening up, for example in Ein Schwert verhiess mir der Vater (CD1 tr. 8), he is impressively steady and full-toned, his Spring song (CD1 tr. 10) is fiery and Siegmund heiss ich (CD1 tr. 13) offers truly heroic singing. Charlotte Margiono’s Sieglinde is lyrical and attractive but also quite reticent, maybe in line with Wagner’s Bayreuth wishes. She becomes more involved in the second act and her last utterances: O hehrstes Wunder! (CD4 tr. 4) are delivered in magnificent fortissimo, beautifully and completely over-shadowing Brünnhilde. Kurt Rydl’s snarling, nasty Hunding is such a vivid portrayal of evil, sung with almost visible face, that it hardly matters that the voice nowadays is quite wobbly.
Jeannine Altmeyer, who was Brünnhilde on the DVDs, could sometimes be too lyrical. Linda Watson has a basically bigger voice, not free from a beat either but not unduly so. Through most of the opera she seems a fairly small-scale Brünnhilde; not until the last act does she appear as a truly dramatic soprano. Der diese Liebe (CD4 tr. 8 at ca 8:30) is sung in long beautiful phrases and she grows to dramatic heights in her last lines (CD4 tr. 10).
Quite the best female singing comes from Doris Soffel, who has to be ranked among the most formidable of Frickas. Although nearing 60 she sings gloriously with almost Italianate tone. Maybe Wagner would have considered her over the top but I took her to my heart. Just listen to the conviction and expressiveness on CD2 tr. 6. No wonder this Fricka gets her own way. Not even the impressive Albert Dohmen as Wotan can withstand her. Dohmen has a more baritonal timbre than many of the Wotans I have heard lately, not wholly unlike Terje Stensvold, whose Stockholm Wotan was – and is – one of the best reasons to see the ongoing Ring there. Dohmen is freer up high than the true basses and has still those black bottom-notes. His is a very detailed reading, almost in a Lieder singer manner. Without much resemblance to Fischer-Dieskau tonally, he nevertheless probes the depths of the character in much the same way. Of course F-D never sang Wotan complete but he recorded the final monologue with Kubelik for EMI in the 1970s. I believe Dohmen has learnt a thing or two from that recording. He also adopts Wagner’s words about telling a story, impersonally, reciting certain passages with dry tone and non-legato. It is not a beautiful reading, but certainly highly expressive. The eight Walküres are good with an especially impressive Gerhilde (Dorothy Grandia).
Among recent Walküre recordings this Amsterdam version is almost on a par with the fine Melba recording from Adelaide. Sonically they are both very impressive and the live recordings register fairly little in the way of stage noise. Melba’s Stuart Skelton sings Siegmund even better than John Keyes with youthful heroic tone but Keyes finds more of the character. Richard Green’s sonorous Hunding on Melba is in the Kurt Moll division but as an incarnation of evil Kurt Rydl is spine-chilling. Soffel is unbeatable as Fricka while John Bröchler and Albert Dohmen, very different in approach, are both highly appealing. As Brünnhilde, Lisa Gasteen on Melba, is more dramatic and brilliant, and wins hands down.
Being a Wagnerian these days can be quite exhausting. This is my fifth Walküre within a year and, apart from the Naxos Stuttgart recording which, although not quite up to the mark, is still a decent enough version, all of them have excellent things to offer. The freshness and rethinking of the music or rather the return to the sources, make this a tempting proposition.
Göran Forsling




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