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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Das Rheingold (1869): Prelude [5:31]
Die Walküre (1870): Prelude to Act 1 [3:57]; Ride of the Valkyries [6:43]; Magic fire music and conclusion of Act 3 [3:57]
Siegfried (1876): Prelude to Act 1 [4:09]; Forest murmurs and Woodbird scene [7:47]; Prelude to Act 3, scene 3 [5:56]
Götterdämmerung (1876): Prelude to Act 1 [2:11]; Siegfried’s Rhine journey [5:29]; Siegfried’s death [4:42]; Funeral march [5:41]; Final scene of Act 3 [4:25]
Anja Fidelia Ulrich, Mona Somm, Eve-Maud Hubeaux, Bernadett Fodor, Christiane Kohl, Lisa Wedekind, Tanja Ariane Baumgartner and Monika Bohinec (Valkyries); Lance Ryan (Siegfried); Jochen Schmeckenbecher (Alberich);
Frankfurter Opern- und Museumsorchester/Sebastian Weigle
rec. live, Oper Frankfurt, May-June 2010 (Das Rheingold), November 2010 (Die Walküre), October-November 2011 (Siegfried), January-February 2012 (Götterdämmerung)
OEHMS CLASSICS OC944 [60:34] 

Richard Wagner is a composer generally treated with the utmost seriousness, whether by fanatical devotees worshiping at Bayreuth or outraged detractors attacking his anti-semitism. The corollary of that seriousness is that jokes about Wagner can have an additional - and in some cases an extra-musical - resonance. Woody Allen knew this all too well when he explained that "I can't listen to that much Wagner ... I start getting the urge to conquer Poland."
 
Mr Allen was not the first to use humour to prick the Wagnerian bubble. Rossini had famously quipped that "one can't judge Lohengrin after a first hearing, and I certainly don't intend hearing it a second time". I suspect, too, that he was not alone in thinking that "Wagner has lovely moments but awful quarters of an hour."
 
For listeners sharing that latter view, conductors of past generations often played and recorded those now infamous "bleeding chunks". The ride of the Valkyries, The magic fire music, Siegfried's funeral march and the rest were all ripped from their proper contexts, stripped where necessary of their vocal elements and sometimes given fabricated "concert" conclusions.
 
To be fair, those extracted "greatest hits" did offer a relatively painless, if drastically abbreviated, pathway to Wagner for Rossini-ite fellow travellers or for anyone fearful of dipping a toe into Bayreuth's deep and turbulent waters. They also risked creating a sort of dichotomy in some listeners' minds between "easy" Wagner and "hard" Wagner. In so doing, this may have discouraged some from undertaking further exploration and gaining deeper understanding and appreciation.
 
It is, then, well worth emphasising that, superficial appearances to the contrary, this new Oehms release is not an old-style "bleeding chunks" disc. Instead, what we have here are extracts taken from complete recordings of The Ring made by these forces at various live staged performances between 2010 and 2012. As a consequence of that, some of the tracks do retain their vocal elements, which will no doubt sound rather odd to anyone more used to the older way of doing these things.
 
All the operas in this Oehms Ring cycle have already been released in complete form on CD and reviewed on this website (links are provided below). My colleague Gavin Dixon reviewed Das Rheingold with immense enthusiasm: "about the closest I've heard to the almost mythical ideal of a Wagner recording in which both the performance and the engineering are of the highest quality". He had one or two slight reservations about Die Walküre. Göran Forsling, on the other hand, was very impressed by some aspects of Die Walküre, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung, but sadly not by all.
 
The good news is, though, that the aspects praised most highly in the complete sets by both reviewers are the very ones specifically showcased on this new disc. There’s the expertly judged conducting of Sebastian Weigle, the highly accomplished playing by the orchestra and the superbly clear and balanced recording made by the Oehms engineers. At the same time, the aspect of the complete performances which caused Göran, in particular, some unease - a few perceived weaknesses among some of the singers - is, by definition, not an issue here.
 
The clearest demonstration of these orchestral episodes' artistic and technical success is the fact that both my colleagues singled them out for specific praise. I can only echo their verdicts. This new release usefully enables potential purchasers to sample the outstanding aspects of Weigle's Ring cycle before making a decision on whether to fork out for the complete 14-disc set: OC 939, available for about £50 or so at some outlets. Others who are simply in search of a single disc of some of those "lovely moments" from The Ring - in superb sound, performed by musicians who are clearly highly skilled and directed by a conductor who has formulated his own distinctive and thoughtful approach to the score - will be well satisfied with this one.
 
Rob Maynard 

 
Reviews of the complete sets (from which these excerpts have been taken)
Das Rheingold ~~ Die Walkure ~~ Siegfried ~~ Götterdämmerung


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