Having just reviewed
all three preceding “music-dramas” for MusicWeb
International, I was eagerly awaiting the arrival of this final
instalment. In many ways it represents a fitting climax to a
superb achievement by Andrew Rose, who clearly worked at superhuman
pace to remaster the entire “Ring” so quickly and
to such a high standard. This set surpasses even his previous
achievement: the singing, the orchestral playing and the immediacy
and clarity of the sound are all markedly superior, such that
I really could forget that it is in mono and temporarily luxuriate
in the fantasy that this live “Götterdämmerung”
marks the culmination of what really is the best “Ring”
on the market.
A few things bring me back to earth: a few flubs and imprecisions
in orchestral ensemble, the nagging conviction that Windgassen’s
rather dry tone and a tendency to bleat and bark are hardly ideal
for the barely post-adolescent Siegfried and a tremulous, gusty,
hooty Gutrune who is possibly the least satisfactory on record
- but so much else is captivating that it is not too difficult
to overlook those shortcomings.
At least Windgassen seems to have overcome the first night nerves
which in “Siegfried” caused him regularly to sing
ahead of the beat and make so many errors; here he seems far
more confident and secure. Perhaps Varnay’s rock-steady
musicality reassured and inspired him, as they make a most impressive
team, especially in the ecstatic duet in the Prologue. Varnay,
a little trademark scooping and the occasional, forgivable squalliness
notwithstanding, is also just terrific in the “Starke
Scheite”, whacking out top Bs and B-flats with absolute
security and standing comparison with the greatest exponents
of Brünnhilde such as Frida Leider and Birgit Nilsson.
She is also a thrilling actress whose words are generally pellucid,
and she rides the orchestra easily - all the more important
now that the remastering has given the latter more prominence.
The supporting singers, Hinsch-Gröndahl‘s Gutrune
apart, are of the highest calibre, headed by Greindl’s
star-turn as Bayreuth’s resident cave-man, his big, black,
burly sound perfect for conveying Hagen’s bestial cunning
and brutality. As is often the case with this artist, he is
not always ideally steady, but he lives the part very convincingly.
Equally impressive is Uhde’s incomparable Gunther: nervy,
febrile and beautifully vocalised; alongside it, Fischer-Dieskau’s
characterisation for Solti seems pale and small-scale. The trio
at the end of Act 2 in which Brünnhilde, Gunther and Hagen
swear vengeance on Siegfried is always a key point for me and
all three singers rise magnificently to its challenges. Nor
does Krauss fail here, as he very occasionally does in “Die
Walküre”, to generate the requisite tension; indeed
I think his pacing of this whole massive work is swift, sweeping
and masterly. The Norns are suitably grave and weighty of voice
and the other female trio, the Rheinmaidens (“a sort of
aquatic Beverley Sisters”, to quote Anna Russell), are
a delightful team; sweet and ethereal, maintaining lovely intonation
in their tripartite harmonies in thirds. The rich-voiced contralto
Ira Malaniuk reminds us what a fine singer she was in her big
scene as an alternately grave and frantic Waltraute. Similarly,
Neidlinger reasserts his claim in a cameo appearance as the
finest Alberich of his generation, in a typically incisive vignette
in his nocturnal visit to his son, Hagen.
In previous evenings, Krauss was inclined to hurry proceedings
along and sometimes ensemble was less than precise, but here
there is a gratifyingly large-scale sense of control, vision
and pacing; take for example the segue from Waltraute’s
departure to the appearance of Siegfried disguised by the Tarnhelm
as Gunther. Krauss seems to me to manage the sequence of all
Brünnhilde’s emotions, through defiance, determination,
exultation, and shocked disbelief; the orchestral coloration
is both subtle and skilful, much more like the performance for
Karajan the preceding year in “Tristan”.
The re-mastering has permitted an astonishing range of frequencies
to emerge; orchestral details and a sense of theatrical space
are now so much more in evidence. The enhanced aural scope reveals
the fact that the audience were mostly remarkably quiet and
it would be a churl who complained about the newly audible hiss
of the flames engulfing the funeral pyre; the noise of the stage
machinery in the Keilberth “Ring” on Testament is
by all accounts more distracting.
A splendid achievement, then, is this Pristine Audio “Ring”.
It makes the prospect of the appearance of further remasterings
by Andrew Rose of hitherto muddy-sounding classics, such as
Krauss’s “Parsifal”, all the more enticing.