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Richard WAGNER (1813–1883)
Das Rheingold
Wotan – James Rutherford (bass-baritone)
Donner – David Jerusalem (bass-baritone)
Froh – Bernhard Berchtold (tenor)
Loge – Raymond Very (tenor)
Fricka – Katarzyna Kuncio (mezzo-soprano)
Freia – Sylvia Hamvasi (soprano)
Erda – Ramona Zaharia (contralto)
Alberich – Jochen Schmeckenbecher (bass-baritone)
Mime – Florian Simson (tenor)
Fasolt – Thorsten Grümbel (bass)
Fafner – Lukasz Koniecsny (bass)
Woglinde – Heidi Elisabeth Meier (soprano)
Wellgunde – Roswitha Christina Müller (mezzo-soprano)
Flosshilde – Anna Harvey (contralto)
Duisburger Philharmoniker/Axel Kober
rec. live, May and November 2019, Mercatorhalle Duisburg, Germany
Libretto not supplied
CAVI-MUSIC 8553504 [72:06 + 71:56]

As conductor and Generalmusikdirektor Axel Kober points out in his liner notes Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen begins and ends at the river Rhine and then it is logical that the Deutsche Oper am Rhein, which is a joint collaboration between the theatres in Düsseldorf and Duisburg, was produced there from June 2017 onwards. The plan was to conclude the production at the end of the 2018/19 season with a complete cycle at each of the two venues. Unfortunately a defective sprinkler system flooded Theater Duisburg a few weeks before the premiere of Götterdämmerung and the damage this caused made it impossible to carry through the project at the time. Luckily they were able at short notice to perform the cycle concertante in Duisburg’s Mercatorhalle, which is the Duisburger Philharmoniker’s regular concert venue with excellent acoustic. It was very successful with standing ovations, as we can hear at the end of the present recording, and it was decided to issue the whole ring on CD. So here we have the first issue, Das Rheingold.

The opening bodes well. The magic prelude, starting almost inaudibly and growing to a furious climax when the curtain is raised, rings out magnificently with rasping brass. And the three Rhine-maidens are among the best I’ve heard with a particularly beautiful Woglinde from Heidi Elisabeth Meier. When Alberich enters he is just as slimy and disgusting as we normally imagine him. Jochen Schmeckenbecher, who sang the role also for Weigle in his Frankfurt cycle almost ten years ago, has a lighter voice than most Alberichs but he is utterly expressive and his enunciation is razor sharp. He also manages to make me feel compassion for the nasty dwarf, when he, robbed of all his gold, is grieved about his unpropitious fate in the beginning of scene 4: Bin ich nun frei? (CD 2 tr. 11).

But when the scene is changed and we meet the gods and goddesses, disappointment begins to creep in. Fricka’s voice is afflicted by a heavy vibrato and Freia is shrill and unlovely. Having recently read my colleague Paul Corfield Godfrey’s review of Simon Rattle’s Die Walküre from Munich, I had high expectations when I saw that James Rutherford was singing Wotan here too. The Munich Walküre was recorded in January and February 2019, the present Rheingold was set down at two performances in May and November the same year – and I was really disappointed. He is dry-voiced, wobbly and rather weak – he has problems projecting out over the orchestra – and there is no nobility in his tone. The only time he really shows the heroic intensity one expects from a Wotan is in his famous solo Abendlich strahlt der Sonne Auge (CD 2 tr. 22), where he delivers the line So grüß’ ich die Burg with admirable ring. And it is an important line when he invites his wife to enter the newly-built Wallhall to ‘reign there with me!’ as Andrew Porter’s English translation says. To continue my grumble, neither Froh nor Donner make much of an impression either. So it is a relief to encounter Raymond Very’s Loge – but of course he is only a half-God. Here is a lean, flexible tenor of great beauty but with the ability to catch the complicated character of the clever and calculating Loge. The role is wide-reaching and he sings it truly convincingly. The two giants are not particularly gigantic but Thorsten Grümbel is a rather amiable Fasolt while Lukasz Konieczny is a suitably gruff Fafner. Definitely on the credit side are Ramona Zaharia’s noble Erda and, above all, Florian Simson’s whining Mime. Here is another character tenor of stature.

The good impression Axel Kober made during the prelude was happily no one-off affair. Throughout the performance he keeps the music in tight reins, offering a straightforward reading without any quirkiness – and the Duisburger Philharmoniker play like gods. I derived a lot of pleasure from listening to this performance but the vocal shortcomings I have accounted for above make it hard to recommend the recording – there are several better alternatives around. That the occasion was a resounding success was obvious from the ovations afterwards, but it is one thing to witness an event live, where also the visual aspects are important, and to just listen through loudspeakers. And I can only judge from what I hear. In this case it was clear that it was the black powers who won the race. The brothers Alberich and Mime representing the underworld and Loge, who certainly nominally stands on the side of the gods, is regarded with scepticism by the others in the Parnassus. When I return to this recording it is to hear Jochen Schmeckenbecher’s Alberich, Florian Simson’s Mime and, best of all, Raymond Very’s Loge.

Göran Forsling