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Wagner: Gotterdämmerung - Janowski

Wagner: Gotterdämmerung - Janowski

PentaTone Classics  PTC 5186 409 (4 discs)

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Opera


Wagner: Gotterdämmerung

Lance Ryan (Siegfried)
Petra Lang (Brünnhilde)
Matti Salminen (Hagen)
Markus Brück (Gunther)
Edith Haller (Gutrune)
Jochen Schmeckenbecher (Alberich)
Marina Prudenskaya (Waltraute)
Julia Borchert (Woglinde)
Katharina Kammerloher (Wellgunde)
Kismara Pessatti (Flosshilde)
Susanna Resmark, Christa Mayer, Jacquelyn Wagner (Norns)
Rundfunkchor Berlin
Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin
Marek Janowski

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Review by Graham Williams - January 17, 2014

This issue of Richard Wagner's 'Götterdämmerung' marks not only the completion of PentaTone's Ring cycle, but also of their project to record and issue on SACD the ten mature Wagner operas by the end of 2013, the Wagner bicentenary year – a remarkable achievement by any standards, and a most successful one. This live recording of the concert performance given at the Philharmonie in Berlin took place on March 15, 2013.

The cast assembled for this concert is comprised almost entirely of singers Janowski has used in his earlier PentaTone Wagner recordings – the exception being the leading male role of Siegfried.

Siegfried is sung by the Canadian Heldentenor Lance Ryan. I first encountered him when attending a staged Ring cycle in Karlsruhe as long ago as 2007. In that cycle he sang the roles of Siegmund and both Siegfrieds, a Herculean task for any young singer and something that made one fear for his future vocal health. Since then Ryan has gone on to become one of the most sought after Heldentenors of his generation and his performances of Siegfried in the opera house are already preserved on CD and DVD. On stage Ryan has great presence and the necessary stamina, but on this recording I found that the hectoring nasal quality of his voice and his tendency to shout made listening to his singing at times something of a trial. Certainly in vocal terms his performance is no match for some of the past exponents of this challenging part.

Petra Lang, who also sang Brünnhilde in Janowski's recording of 'Die Walkure', is to some degree a controversial choice for this role. She is a mezzo but possesses a wide vocal compass and whilst a few of her top notes sound effortful (though accurately pitched), this is more than compensated for by the fierce intelligence of her interpretation and thrilling commitment that she brings to her fascinating portrayal . It must be admitted, however, that her very individual and dark vocal timbre may not appeal to listeners familiar with the more usual soprano Brünnhildes. Lang is at her best in her bitter denunciation of Siegfried in Act II and her final Immolation does not disappoint.

The Finnish bass Matti Salminen, indisputably one of the greatest of living Wagner performers, recorded the role of Hagen in Janowski's earlier recording of Götterdämmerung in the 1980s and again in the MET Ring under James Levine in the 1990s. Though it would be unrealistic to expect him, at the age of 68, to possess the vocal richness that he once had, his performance on this recording is quite remarkable. He sings with a baleful malevolence that characterises the role perfectly and this, combined with his marvellous communication of the text, explains why he is still for many the Hagen of choice.

All the other supporting roles are well characterised and splendidly sung. Marina Prudenskaya's Waltraute is especially noteworthy for the beauty and authority of her singing. Her long Act II narration is, for me, one of the many highlights of this recording. The three Norns are a vocally well-contrasted group though some might find the vibrato of Susanne Resmark a little excessive.
Markus Brück is a suitably imperious Gunther whilst his sister Gutrune is appealingly sung by a sweet voiced Edith Haller. Once again Jochen Schmeckenbecher impresses as a bitter sounding Alberich.

The Rundfunkchor, Berlin whose magnificent singing has been an important feature in many of the earlier operas are again on top form and their incisive singing in Act II could hardly be matched, let alone bettered, by the majority of Opera House choruses – with the possible exception of Bayreuth.

It will come as no surprise to those who have invested in any or all of the early issues in this Wagner series that the heroes of this recording are the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester, Berlin who once again prove that they are amongst the finest and most flexible body of musicians in Germany. One runs out of superlatives to describe the quality of the string playing, the richness of the burnished brass and the fine tonal blend of the creamy woodwind. However, the most fulsome praise must be reserved for the conductor Marek Janowski whose pacing of the work brims over with theatrical flair. With tempi generally, but not always, on the fast side, he propels the opera to its cataclysmic conclusion with total conviction. The big orchestral set-pieces – Siegfried's Rhine Journey, Siegfried's Funeral Music and the work's tumultuous conclusion – are electrifying but so is Janowski's vivid realisation of countless other orchestral passages such as the transition between scenes 2 and 3 of the first Act (Disc 2 tr.4)

The recording engineers from Polyhymnia and Deutschlandradio Kultur have the measure of the Philharmonie acoustic and, as on the previous issues, achieve a remarkably vivid and coherent sound quality in which voices and orchestra are perfectly balanced. The many off-stage horn calls in the opera sound in realistic perspective and the location of individual singers on the platform is precise.

The handsome presentation of this set matches that of the previous nine Wagner operas. The four discs are contained within a thick book that includes a full German / English libretto, biographies of the singers plus a valuable and engrossing essay on the work by Steffen Georgi.

In spite of the reservations I have expressed in regard to some of the singing, this superbly recorded Götterdämmerung is one of the finest to have appeared in the last 30 years and is an essential acquisition for all Wagnerites.

Copyright © 2014 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

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