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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Scenes and Arias from Die Meistersinger, Tannhäuser, Der fliegende Holländer,
Siegfried, Die Walküre & Das Rheingold
Michael Volle (baritone)
Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin/Georg Fritzsch
rec. 2016, Großen Sendesaal des RBB, Berlin
ORFEO C904171A [65.48]

On the Orfeo label baritone Michael Volle has released a highly desirable collection of Wagner scenes and arias recorded in 2016 at Berlin. This album contains ten arias from Wagner heroic baritone scenes, three from Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, two from Tannhäuser and one each from Der fliegende Holländer, Parsifal, Siegfried, Das Rheingold and Die Walküre.

A native of Freudenstadt, Southern Germany, Volle first came to my attention in 2013 with his release Michael Volle - A Portrait, a varied collection of arias on BR Klassik (review). Last year in Berlin whilst in rehearsal for Puccini’s Tosca (he made a terrifying Scarpia to Angela Gheorghiu in the title role) at Staatsoper im Schiller Theater Berlin (review), I was delighted to interview Volle. His passion for Stefan Herheim’s production of Les Contes d’Hoffmann was conspicuous, playing the four villains at Bregenz Festival in 2015. Having watched Volle, starring so splendidly in Herheim’s video of the staging, I can fully understand the baritone’s wholehearted enthusiasm for this entertaining and wholly recommendable spectacle (review).

Volle has been intelligent in handling his burgeoning development into larger Wagner roles including Amfortas in Parsifal in 2007 at Zurich, Wotan in Die Walküre in 2011 at Seville to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg first with Beckmesser then rising to international acclaim as Hans Sachs in Herheim’s new production at the 2013 Salzburg Festival. This summer Volle continued his celebrated portrayal of Sachs in Barrie Kosky’s staging at the 2017 Bayreuth Festival.

Having witnessed it firsthand in live opera performance, it is clear that Volle’s voice is in prime condition. What stands out is his effortless sound-production, together with a natural warm tone, which can be sweet when needed at the top. When Volle is around, everyone takes full notice such is his generously warm and engaging personality, his outstanding acting, considerable stage presence and authoritative voice.

Although it is hard to make a choice from the wealth of riches available on this Wagner collection, in my view the standout, after much consideration, is the short ‘Verachtet mir die Meister nicht’ (Scorn not the masters, I bid you) from the closing scene of act three of Meistersinger which has, in effect, become Volle’s signature opera. Here Sachs is telling Walter that the Masters are the saviours of German art. Volle demonstrates how his voice is blessed with warmth and clarity and his feeling for the text is remarkable. Also worthy of special praise is Volle’s rendition of ‘Wotan’s Farewell’ ‘Leb wohl, du kühnes, herrliches Kind!’ (Farewell, you bold wonderful child) from act three, scene three of Die Walküre. This scene is a good example of how Volle balances power and pathos admirably in his portrayal of God Wotan who is saying farewell to his daughter Brünnhilde, surrounded by a ring of fire, by placing her in an enchanted sleep. Once again Volle, with his wonderful flowing legato, displays a meaningful interpretation of the text. I could continue with similar accolades for all the other individual arias here, but let it suffice to say that his contribution throughout the album is outstanding.

Meißen-born in Saxony, conductor Georg Fritzsch phrases and paces well, generating significant often thrilling drama from the gloriously responsive Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin. Recorded at Großen Sendesaal des RBB, Berlin, Volle has the benefit of warm sound, with excellent clarity and balance between voice and orchestra. In the booklet note written by Jens Malte Fischer there is a helpful and interesting essay titled ‘The Heroic Baritone - A Less Than Straightforward Operatic Term’. Also provided is a valuable explanation of each aria within its operatic context yet, unforgivably, there are no sung German texts and English translations. On the disc there is plenty of space to have fitted another couple of arias which would have been especially welcome given this quality of performance.

Throughout this Volle album I was reminded of another highly recommendable collection of Wagner scenes and arias sung by René Pape with Staatskapelle Berlin under Daniel Barenboim, recorded in Berlin in 2010 in Berlin, on Deutsche Grammophon. I have already praised Volle’s performance in Stefan Herheim’s production of Les Contes d’Hoffmann on DVD/Blu-ray but it would be remiss not to mention also Volle’s quite outstanding performance as Hans Sachs in Herheim’s staging of Meistersinger filmed at the 2013 Salzburg Festival on EuroArts.

With Michael Volle in such outstanding form this essential Wagner collection is a riveting experience on Orfeo.

Michael Cookson

Track listing
1. Verachtet mir die Meister nicht - Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg [4.49]
2. Die Frist ist um - Der fliegende Holländer [10.45]
3. Als du in kuhnem Sange uns bestrides - Tannhäuser [3.20]
4. Blick ich umher in diesem edlen Kreise - Tannhäuser [4.58]
5. Ja, wehe! Wehe! Weh über mich! - Parsifal [7.32]
6. Was duftet doch der Flieder - Meistersinger von Nürnberg [5.98]
7. Euch macht ihr's leicht - Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg [4.24]
8. Dir Unweisen ruf´ ich´s ins Ohr - Siegfried [4.39]
9. Abendlich strahlt der Sonne Auge - Das Rheingold [4.16]
10. Leb wohl, du kühnes, herrliches Kind! - Die Walküre [14.59]



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