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Wagner: Das Rheingold - Janowski

Wagner: Das Rheingold - Janowski

PentaTone Classics  PTC 5186406 (2 discs)

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Opera


Wagner: Das Rheingold

Tomasz Konyechuni (Wotan)
Christian Elsner (Loge)
Iris Vermillion (Fricka)
Gunter Groissbock (Fasolt)
Jochen Schmeckenbecher (Alberich)
Andreas Conrad (Mime)
Antonio Yang (Donner)
Kor-Jan Dusseljee (Froh)
Ricarda Merbeth (Freia)
Maria Radner (Erda)
Timo Riihonen (Fafner)
Julia Borchert (Woglinde)
Katharina Kammerloher (Wellgunde)
Kismara Pessatti (Floßhilde)
Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin
Marek Janowski

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Review by John Broggio - May 12, 2013

Fine though other releases in Janowski's Wagner cycle have been, this is arguably the most valuable release so far and bodes very well for the completion of his wider cycle and the Ring in particular.

Like Wagner: Das Rheingold - Fisch and Wagner: Das Rheingold - Haenchen, this set derives from concert performances. Where this set scores in particular in relation to the others is that it was made in a concert hall (Philharmonie, Berlin) and consequently the acoustic is far less dry and makes for a much more listenable experience. In addition, the clarity of playing from the orchestra and the recording from PentaTone mean that few listeners will have ever heard as many notes (without excessive spotlighting etc) of this wonderful score before now; if ever a veil was lifted from the score, it is here - thank you PentaTone. The massed anvil scenes are breathtaking in their impact - the breadth & depth of sound causes goosebumps and this is entirely natural, a world away from the obviously (and by the standards of today, crudely) engineered impact that is given to Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen - Solti.

The cast are near uniformly excellent: The Wotan of Tomasz Konieczny is authoritative, avoiding any sense of gruffness or the barking sound that some singers feel compelled to use in this music; his tone is somewhat lighter than may be used to but it is hardly inappropriately so. Freia is sung ably by Ricarda Merbeth although there are moments where her vibrato threatens to lose control of the underlying pitch - it never actually happens fortunately. Andreas Conrad as Mime is particularly good at characterising his line & his contributions grip the listener. Günther Groissböck's Fasolt is commanding and gives lie to the oft asserted notion that there are no good Wagnerian singers working today. Likewise, Timo Riihonen is similarly assured in fine voice.

Even the small roles of Woglinde (Julia Borchert), Wellgunde (Katharina Kammerloher) & Floßhilde (Kismara Pessatti) are sung as brilliantly as Jochen Schmeckenbecher (Alberich), Antonio Yang (Donner), Kor-Jan Dusseljee (Froh), Christian Elsner (Loge), Iris Vermillion (Fricka) and Maria Radner (Erda). The only slight criticism of casting (as opposed to the artistry) is that Fafner, Fasolt and Wotan have singers that with similar characteristics. The characteristics are all positive though, so I'd rather that than highly individual but hard-on-the-ears singers!

Janowski's pacing and preparation of the orchestra is masterly. Reacting with sensitivity to the score, the tender & reflective scenes are given space to breathe without taxing the singers into strained tone. Similarly, Janowski quickens the pace to inject the vital electricity required where appropriate; it should be noted though that his approach is very much more measured than, say, Solti so that such tempo changes feel an organic part of the score & are never pursued for the sake of adrenaline alone. Compared to some of the greats of yesteryear (Keilberth to name but one), this account may not have the narrative pull that can be achieved but for those feeling that, I suspect many will feel relief in the lack of histrionic effects in Janowski's conception. The more one hears, the more one appreciates the vocal acting as well as the superlative orchestral contribution (make no mistake, there are at least 3 world class orchestras resident in Berlin today).

This listener (at least) is eagerly awaiting the next installment of the Ring.

Copyright © 2013 John Broggio and HRAudio.net

Performance:

Sonics (Multichannel):

stars stars

Review by Graham Williams - May 25, 2013

PentaTone's epic project, to record the ten mature Wagner operas in concert performances conducted by Marek Janowski, has now been completed. The six operas already issued have garnered wide critical acclaim, and Wagnerians eagerly awaiting the release on SACD of the four operas that comprise 'Der Ring des Nibelungen' are unlikely to be disappointed by this first instalment of the cycle – 'Das Rheingold'.

I was fortunate to attend the performance of this opera given on November 22nd, 2012 in the Philharmonie, Berlin from which this recording derives (and, incidentally, the even more gripping Die Walküre performed two nights later that is planned to be the next release in this series). These two SACDs convey as vivid a realisation of the live event as one could wish for – minus any audience noise or applause. They attest to the success of recording opera in this way rather than live in the opera house (Fisch Wagner: Das Rheingold - Fisch and Haenchen Wagner: Das Rheingold - Haenchen) where stage noise can be disturbing and microphone placing difficult, or in the studio (Solti Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen - Solti) where some of the spontaneity of a live performance must inevitably evaporate.

In terms of recorded sound this issue matches the standard of the previous releases. Voices, by and large, are very well balanced with the orchestra though the spatial limitations of the Philharmonie platform means that the impression of stage movement is somewhat limited. Cheesy electronic effects as found on the Solti recording are thankfully absent, but I do regret the absence of spine-chilling screams of the Nibelungen in Scene 3 as these are specified in the stage directions in the score. However, the thrilling sound of the seventeen percussionists playing anvils during the descent into Nibelheim was a more than adequate compensation.

For 'Das Rheingold' Janowski has assembled a very fine cast with no weak links; one, in fact, that is as good if not better than any likely to found in the world's opera houses today.
The finest singing on this recording unquestionably comes from the Polish baritone Tomasz Konieczny who on the basis of his performance here is set to become one of the great Wotans of our time. His voice is rich and dark in timbre, his diction immaculate and throughout he conveys an appropriate god-like nobility. As his wife 'Fricka', Iris Vermillion sings with passionate involvement, but some squally moments occasionally mar her otherwise accomplished assumption of the role and it must also be admitted that occasionally she does sound a tad matronly.

In the important role of 'Loge' Christian Elsner is as impressive as he was as 'Parsifal'. He captures the character's wiliness, but never resorts to caricature, and he deliver's Loge's narration 'Immer ist Undank' (Disc 1 tr. 13) with a winning bel canto elegance – quite an achievement.

Jochen Schmeckenbecher is an excellent Alberich, sounding rather more youthful than some of the singers one often encounters in this role. He is able to convey the character's many facets – from initial lust to eventual rage and bitterness – most convincingly and without unwarranted exaggeration.

The Rhinemaidens are a spirited trio, with the Flosshilde of the rich-voiced Brazilian contralto Kismara Pessatti being especially memorable. Andreas Conrad turns in a convincing and characterful 'Mime' and the minor gods and giants are uniformly praiseworthy.

Janowski's control of his forces and pacing of the work is superb, and he constantly illuminates many inner details of Wagner's score with a skill acquired only through long experience of conducting this composer's music. He moves the drama forward with considerable momentum, but avoids the sudden frenetic bursts of energy that mark sections of Solti's venerable recording – overall his timing is just five minutes shorter than Solti.

As on the previous six issues, the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin play magnificently for their artistic leader and chief conductor. Each section of this orchestra possess a finespun tonal refinement and remarkable litheness that makes the most of the opportunities Wagner offers them in this work.

This recording augurs the promise of an outstanding 'Ring des Nibelungen' for the 21st Century, and as such can be wholeheartedly recommended.

Copyright © 2013 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

Performance:

Sonics (Multichannel):

stars stars