WAGNER: Götterdammerung (Complete Opera) – Lance Ryan (Siegfried)/ Petra Lang (Brünnhilde)/ Matti Salminen (Hagen)/ Berlin Radio Sym. Choir and Orch./ Marek Janowski– Pentatone Classics multichannel SACD PTC 5186 409 (4 Discs), 4:03:42 [Distr. by Naxos] ***1/2:
This is disappointing. After a terrific start with Rheingold, and I have seen some excellent reviews elsewhere of Walkure and Siegfried (evidently we did not receive them here, at least not as yet), the dumpy, wayward-tempo finale to the great Ring cycle come with a whimper instead of a bang. Why? The Brunnhilde for one. Petra Lang has moments, no doubt about that. She is a radiant actress that brings a lot of understanding to the role, and there are times where she generates a lot of excitement, but there are many others where she seems to struggle to keep up, like a mountain climber tiring right before the final push for the summit. And Wagner’s opus is a mountain, to be sure—a more taxing soprano role has never been devised, and it has been the downfall of many a modern singer, probably ever since the notion of “Wagner” soprano was created, a powerful dramatic voice of even strength in all registers, and something that really developed after the death of the composer. Lang just doesn’t finish the race.
Lance Ryan’s Siegfried is not bad at all, the second most important role, but in this case there is power but not enough vocal beauty, yet one could also consider this a common complaint, and Ryan manages pretty well. Matti Salminen’s Hagen has some real moments of intonation issues in some held notes that are not vocally attractive. This surprised me, knowing Salminen’s work in general to be of the highest order. The other cast members are good and quite reliable, if not outstanding. In fact, the more I consider it, this whole reading sounds under rehearsed, incoherent, and undisciplined. This is diametrically opposed to everything I was anticipating in this release according to the uniform excellence of the other recordings in this series, not just the Ring operas.
Though the sound is quite spectacular—no let down there at all, and it does cover a multitude of sins—the orchestral balances in many key places are skewed, and when Wagner’s dramatic impetus leads toward a huge climax with particular instruments leading the charge, they are simply not there in the strength they need to be in order to register the requisite impact. And many times Janowski rushes without any rhyme or reason; Siegfried’s Rhine Journey is taken on a speedboat, as if Janowski was trying to squeeze a passage onto a time-constricted old 78 rpm record. His death doesn’t fare much better, far too quick and too sloppily played, something not present in the other recordings.
I cannot account for the flaws in this approach, unless the bigness of the whole undertaking simply led to some performance miscalculations—this is a live recording, done in the Berlin Phiharmonie. Whatever the reason, though it does give a lot of pleasure, and the surround sound in particular, it’s not what it should have been—we shall have to see if Gergiev hits the mark that Janowski missed.
— Steven Ritter
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