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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Der Ring des Nibelungen - symphonic excerpts
Das Rheingold (1869): Prelude, Interludes and Entry of the Gods into Valhalla [22.17]
Die Walküre (1870): Ride of the Valkyries and Magic Fire Music [12.55]
Siegfried (1876): Forest murmurs [8.29]
Götterdämmerung (1876): Siegfried’s Rhine Journey, Funeral March and Brünnhilde’s Immolation* [38.56]
Nina Stemme* (soprano)
Paris National Opera Orchestra/Philippe Jordan
rec. Salle Liebermann, Opéra Bastille, Paris, 12, 17, 24 June 2013
WARNER ERATO 9341422 [44.03 + 38.56]

The greatest glory of this set of excerpts from the Ring is the playing of the orchestra under Philippe Jordan. He tells us in his booklet notes that the Paris Opera orchestra at the Bastille had not played the Ring before their series of productions in 2007-10 but given the splendour of their interpretation here that is hard to believe. Time and again details of the score that are often muffled or muffed come through loud and clear - such as the little flecks of woodwind figures at the end of Act Two of Siegfried. When reviewing the Gergiev set of Rheingold a little while ago I complained about the reduction of Wagner’s specified string forces and the deleterious effect this had on the carefully calculated orchestral balances. Here the booklet lists a massive number of players, well in excess of Wagner’s already extravagant requirements. Although one may doubt whether all of them were actually playing at any given point, the results are startling and impressive, with the filigree detail of the passages for massed divided strings clear as a bell.
 
We are told that what we have here is a collection of ‘symphonic extracts’ from the Ring. Inevitably this has involved a degree of editorial intervention. From Rheingold we are given effectively all the orchestral passages, which have been collected by an anonymous hand into one continuous suite rather in the style of one of Stokowski’s ‘symphonic syntheses’. We have the Prelude leading into the opening scene - with the vocal lines for Woglinde and Wellgunde allocated to oboe and clarinet respectively. There’s then a brief segue into the scene of Alberich chasing the Rhinemaidens and a further cut into the interlude which ends the first scene. The opening of the second scene with the Valhalla motif follows. After this comes the uprushing string theme which introduces Fricka’s first words joined to Wotan’s “Auf Loge!” and the following Descent into Nibelheim. The anvil passage towards the end of this interlude is then joined into the interlude portraying the Ascent from Nibelheim. We then have the more usual storm music and a slightly cut version of the final scene generally known as “The Entry of the Gods into Valhalla”.
 
This sequence works very well as a ‘potted’ version of the opera, with no serious omissions of any purely orchestral passages. However, as with Klemperer’s recording of Donner’s storm music which I reviewed for this site earlier this year, the string figurations sound rather forlorn without the vocal line that overlays them in the opera, rather like an early pre-echo of Philip Glass’s minimalist techniques. Nor is the orchestral balance totally ideal. At the beginning of the Prelude the bassoons low B flat which enters after the first eight bars is too loud for the even lower E flat in the double basses which has preceded them. This is a problem of Wagner’s creation; it is simply impossible for the bassoons to play this note at the pianissimo which he specifies, and the only solution which gives the fundamental E flat its proper weight is for the double basses to play with more presence and volume than the specified dynamic. The original mastering of the Solti Ring had the same difficulty, but this has by some means been rectified in more recent re-masterings. With Jordan the anvils during the Nibelheim interludes have been carefully differentiated - as Wagner asks - between a smaller number of large anvils and a larger number of smaller ones, but some of the large ones sound very clunky; and one really misses the effect of Donner’s hammer striking the rock during the storm sequence.
 
After this extensive survey of Rheingold, Die Walküre and Siegfried get rather short shrift. From the former we are given only the Ride of the Valkyries - complete with the anonymous and rather trite concert conclusion, rightly omitted by Klemperer - and a fairly extended Magic Fire Music starting rather earlier than usual from the moment when Wotan puts Brünnhilde to sleep; again we miss the sound of Wotan’s spear striking the rock. Jordan, like many other conductors, slows down for the final statement of the Valkyries’ theme on the trombones; but he has to do so quite abruptly, because he has already set rather a brisk tempo for the earlier statements of the theme, and then has to accelerate again for the conclusion. Similarly the horn entry in the Magic Fire music just before the cello restatement of Wotan’s Das augend lauchtende Paar is rather too jaunty for its context. It consists of the final segment of the ‘Valhalla’ motif, which is always used by Wagner in the later segments of the Ring to suggest rest. Its final appearance in this form in Götterdämmerung occurs at Brünnhilde’s words “Ruhe, ruhe, du Gott!”. On the plus side Jordan clearly uses Wagner’s specified harp forces of six players - divided into two groups of three instrumentalist each - during the Magic Fire Music. This pays real dividends with the pointed playing almost sounding piano-like during the sparkling statements of the Loge theme.
 
From Siegfried we are given only the Forest Murmurs, not in the usual version - with its tawdry glockenspiel entry substituting for the voice of the soprano Woodbird. We hear a new edition by Wouter Hutschenruyter which is a vast improvement. It has a more integrated style and also allows more room for the excited closing bars which can come as rather a jolt in the traditional concert version.
 
On the second disc we are given the usual three extracts from Götterdämmerung. The opening track is described simply as “Siegfried’s Rhine Journey” but in fact what we have here is the usual conflation of the Dawn music with an abbreviated love duet and the whole of the following orchestral interlude. Thankfully it’s without the blatantly false upbeat conclusion which was appended by Humperdinck. This leads without a break into the Funeral March and then segues into the closing Immolation Scene. It is without a bass to sing Hagen’s solitary line but has Nina Stemme to sing Brünnhilde. This singer is sounding increasingly mezzo-ish in tone nowadays but she still has all the force required to deliver her top notes. She also delivers some lovely quiet tone in her middle section although she might well have been even more expressive if Jordan had allowed her a little more time for her phrasing. Again Jordan’s players are highly impressive, and the final peroration - if a little brisk - is superbly played with the flickering string figurations clean as a bell.
 
So a very warm welcome indeed for what we are given here but we could have been given more. Given these players, one would really have welcomed the other two Preludes from Die Walküre. From Siegfried we could have had the three Preludes - which, with their climactic statements of the Servitude motif, have a real symphonic unity. The transformation music from Act Three would also have been a real bonus. As it is, we have two discs of rather short measure, hardly totalling more than a single CD between them. We are however rightly given the text and English and French translations of the Immolation Scene.
 
Paul Corfield Godfrey
 




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