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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
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
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]
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
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.