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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Ring Without Words – A Symphonic Synthesis (arr. Lorin Maazel, 1987) [72:20]
Staatskapelle Weimar/Hansjörg Albrecht
rec. live, 9 & 10 October 2016, Neue Weimarhalle, Weimar
Reviewed as a stereo 24/48 download from eClassical
Pdf booklet included
OEHMS OC1872 [72:20]

There have been several attempts to turn Wagner’s tetralogy into an extended orchestral piece, and I’ve reviewed two of them. First is the Dutch composer-percussionist Henk de Vlieger’s The Ring – An Orchestral Adventure, as recorded by Neeme Järvi and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in 2007; second is Lorin Maazel’s arrangement, The Ring Without Words – A Symphonic Synthesis , which he recorded with the Berliner Philharmoniker in October 2000. The latter is on Blu-ray/DVD, but those who want an audio version should investigate Maazel’s 1987 recording with the same orchestra (Telarc CD-80154).

There’s no doubt the RSNO is well up to the task in that de Vlieger arrangement, but for a number of reasons I wasn’t convinced by the performance as a whole. No such qualms about the Maazel video, though, which was one of my top picks for 2011. The playing there is peerless, and the conductor – so infuriating at times – is at his dramatic and propulsive best; factor in rich, full-bodied sound and you have a truly unforgettable experience. Most important, Maazel ensures the music hangs together, and that really is the key to a successful performance of this arrangement.

The Staatskapelle Weimar is new to me, as is the conductor Hansjörg Albrecht, perhaps best known as an organist and harpsichordist. He’s described in the liner-notes as ‘a musical border crosser and a fearlessly original thinker’; alas, the rest of the booklet is just as poorly translated. Not a hanging offence, of course, but it’s annoying nonetheless. I see Albrecht’s also transcribed Wagner overtures and preludes for organ (Oehms OC690); he’s done the same with The Ring, his recording of which failed to impress Patrick Waller when it first appeared in 2006.

Given Maazel’s authoritative performances Albrecht is attempting to beard the lion in his den. Does he succeed? Emphatically, no. Starting with the overture to Das Rheingold and ending with a woefully anticlimactic Götterdämmerung, it’s clear this orchestra has neither the body nor the virtuosity for this music. Even allowing for the exigencies of a live recording, the playing is pretty awful; discipline is poor, tuttis are ragged and the brass is flatulent. And thanks to the dire recording – it’s close, dry and devoid of all colour or detail – the strings and woodwinds make little impact at all. Even more damning is Albrecht’s slack and sluggish conducting, which destroys essential thrust and shape. Not only that, the well-known bits – the ‘bleeding chunks’ – are clumsily done, the sound rough and bright.

The difference between this and Maazel’s recordings could not be greater; even if we were comparing this Weimar band with one from the boondocks –  let alone the Berliner Philharmoniker – they’d be right at the bottom of the heap. Really, I can’t remember when I last heard a performance and recording as abysmal as this.

You have been warned.

Dan Morgan



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