WAGNER: Die Walküre – Jonas Kaufmann (Siegmund)/ Mikhail Petrenko (Hundling)/ Rene Papé (Wotan)/ Anja Kampe (Sieglinde)/ Nina Stemme (Brünnhilde)/ Ekaterina Gubanova (Fricka)/ Mariinsky Orchestra/ Valery Gergiev – Mariinsky (4 discs)

by | Mar 15, 2013 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

WAGNER: Die Walküre (complete opera) – Jonas Kaufmann (Siegmund)/ Mikhail Petrenko (Hundling)/ Rene Papé (Wotan)/ Anja Kampe (Sieglinde)/ Nina Stemme (Brünnhilde)/ Ekaterina Gubanova (Fricka)/ Mariinsky Orchestra/ Valery Gergiev – Mariinsky multichannel SACD MAR0527 (4 discs), 236:36 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] *****:

Gergiev has again turned his attention to Wagner, and to good effect. I am a real fan of his first foray into the Wagnerian corpus, a really first class recording of Parsifal . And this from a man—me—who has been very critical of this conductor in the past, and no doubt will find things to complain about in the future. But surprisingly, and especially from a Russian conductor, Gergiev seems to have a natural affinity for Wagner’s music.

Assuming this is the first in a complete Ring cycle (and many times companies do begin with Die Walküre as it is probably the most popular of the cycle) it is off to an excellent start. My concerns when hearing Gergiev’s Parsifal were the ability of the Mariinsky Orchestra to balance itself properly, an absolutely essential requirement in Wagner, especially in the top-to-bottom brass, and for a proper presentation of the voices in relation to the orchestra. On both counts all fears were assuaged, and this remains the case here as well. The orchestra is magnificent; a group that doesn’t always rise to that level, but something about Wagner brings out the best in them. Perhaps it is because a Wagnerian orchestra requires an equal strength across all sections with no particular one standing out, and this is the makeup of the Mariinsky Orchestra, not especially noted for brilliance of brass tone or string sheen, but competence in all facets of performance. They fit very well in this opera, laying down a foundation of sound that is rich and thoroughly flexible when needed.

The voices are what really win in this production, with not a weak link anywhere. Rene Papé is becoming theWotan in our day and age, his voice strong and steely in timbre while adroitly subtle in those moments where less force is required.  Jonas Kaufmann truly soars in the role of Siegmund—maybe the defining performance of the modern recording age. Anja Kampe brings an invigoratingly refreshing Sieglinde with no noticeable weaknesses in her voice, always prepared for her high soaring lines without sounding in the least stressed or strained. Nina Stemme’s Brünnhilde makes one long for the rest of this Ring to continue as she find new ways to expressively convey the feelings of the punished warrior in a manner not always in your face and confrontational. And the Hundling of Mikhail Petrenko is wonderfully pointed and strong in all aspects of his performance. The rest of the cast in the more minor roles are never less than acceptable and frequently outstanding.

There have been some problems with the Mariinsky surround sound in some past issues, but not here—these readings from three separate concert performances spanning almost a year from 2011-12 are superior in all respects, a model of how surround Wagner should sound. Productions values remain high with texts and translations in an attractive booklet enclosed in a box. Not to be missed.

—Steven Ritter

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