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Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen [Box Set]
Richard [Classical] Wagner, Pierre Boulez, Bayreuth Festival Orchestra
Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen [Box Set]
Genre: Classical
 
Includes: Das Rheingold * Die Walkure * Siegfried * Gotterdamerung CAST LIST Fritz Hubner, Franz Mazura, Donald McIntyre, Siegfried Jerusalem, Heinz Zednik, Manfred Jung, Dame Gwyneth Jones, Hermann Becht, Hanna Schwar...  more »

      
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Includes: Das Rheingold * Die Walkure * Siegfried * Gotterdamerung CAST LIST Fritz Hubner, Franz Mazura, Donald McIntyre, Siegfried Jerusalem, Heinz Zednik, Manfred Jung, Dame Gwyneth Jones, Hermann Becht, Hanna Schwarz, Peter Hofmann, Jeanine Altmeyer, Matti Salminen, Gabriele Schnaut, Gwendolyn Killebrew, Bayreuth Festival Orchestra and Pierre Boulez, conductor. "Patrice Chereau's Bayreuth Centenary Ring may be more than twenty-five years old but it remains an iconic and defining production. Both he and conductor Pierre Boulez rethought approaches to Wagner, so much so that the orchestra threatened to go on strike if Boulez did not allow them to play the way they'd always played. Chereau set the action in the Industrial Age at the time the Ring was written, relating it to the political thinking of the time and humanising the characters. The cast was the cast of the day led by Donald McIntyre's frock-coated industrialist Wotan, and a redoubtable but touching Brunnhilde from Gwyneth Jones. Boulez pared back the music to, at times, chamber orchestra proportions. The result was a triumph which redefined Wagner production for the modern era and is still as powerful today as when first seen."--BBC Radio

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CD Reviews

Boulez sans Chereau; c'est bon...
Thomas Plotkin | West Hartford CT, United States | 11/21/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Ahhh, I've been waiting for this... Hitherto the Boulez/Chereau Bayreuth Ring of 1976 was only available on DVD; to enjoy Boulez' remarkable approach to Wagner conducting, one had to sit through Chereau's hopelessly misconceived staging of the Ring in Second Empire garb. Contrary to Chereau's assertions, Wagner was NOT writing about his time -- he started out allegorizing the events of 1848, but his own loss of faith in revolutionary politics is reflected in the sorry fate of the mortals whose rupture with the Gods he initially wanted to ennoble; Brunnhilde aside, Mankind falls, everyone is corrupted. Such a story begs for mythic archetypes, and sensibly, that's what Wagner used. Wotan in a morning coat made me think I was watching a bad East German production of "Ah, Wilderness." (Though admittedly it's better than the Kupfer/Barenboim "Blade Runner/Laserium/Chernobl" nightmare of a decade later)Anyway, enough abou the DVD -- suffice to say that when this was aired on PBS, I draped a towel over my TV screen somewhere into Valkyrie. So what about the music? Assuming this has been well-remastered (The LP's were dodgy), Boulez favors fleet tempos, crystaline attention to detail, deep structural correspondences (Boulez is fond of comparing Wagner to his acolyte Proust -- the auditor's/reader's memory of the motifs is crucial to both artist's method)and a highlighting of the forward-looking aspects of Wagner, the elements that point to Pelleas et Melisande and the 2nd Viennese School. Contrary to received opinion, I think the singing is just fine, particularly Gwyneth Jones' emotive Brunnhilde and Jeanine Altemeyer's lovely Sieglinde. The golden age of Wagner singing was now past, and subsequent sets by Janowski and Barenboim are no better vocally than this one. And both modern recording technology and the Bayreuth acoustic are kind to these light voices. In short, this is worth getting for a completely fresh take on the conducting: some may find it a race to the finish line, others, like me, yet another Ring to put on when you want to hear clarity,deftness, modernity. (I own and love equally the '52 Krauss, the RAI Futwangler, the '56 Knappertsbusch, the Solti, Karajan, Bohm, Janowski and Barenboim sets -- I wouldn't part with any of 'em, and the Boulez will look nice up on that swollen shelf!)
Boulez sans Chereau Pt II
A brief second review is in order, since my first was based on the DVD and my old LP's -- I have since acquired and listened to the CD edition of the Boulez 1980 Bayreuth Ring, and I just want to add that the remastered sound is SPECTACULAR; the Bayreuth acoustic, Boulez's extraordinary attention to color and detail, the orchestra's virtuosity (no fluffed notes, weird entrances, etc)all make for one of the most formidable displays of RING conducting ever. All the fleetness and drama of Bohm, without the crass lack of nuance, all the attention to detail of Karajan without the somnolent stasis...if only Boulez had tackled this in the late '60's, back when he was conducting Parsifal at the festival, and would have had the benefit of a better cast...sigh. Anyway, this may not be a first choice Ring, but for addicts, I think this beats the way-over-rated, over-priced and under-conducted Keilberth stereo edition on Testament...
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A comprehensive look at a legendary "Ring" cycle
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 11/29/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

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Given its somewhat dicey reputation, I think many listeners will be astonished at how good this famous Seventies Ring from Boulez sounds when stripped of its visuals. Long available on tape and DVD, it has now been fantasically well remastered for CD. Here is a comprehensive review of each installment.

'Das Rheingold.'
Donald McIntyre Wotan ; Hermann Becht Alberich ; Martin Egel Donner ; Matti Salminen Fasolt ; Carmen Reppel sop Freia ; Norma Sharp sop Woglinde ; Ilse Gramatzki sop Wellgunde ; Hanna Schwarz mez Fricka ; Marga Schiml mez Flosshilde ; Ortrun Wenkel cont Erda ; Heinz Zednik ten Loge ; Helmut Pampuch ten Mime ; Siegfried Jerusalem ten Froh ; Fritz Hübner bass Fafner

As expected, Boulez takes a swift view of Rheingold, which helps immensely to bring the drama to the fore. In this instance the absence of visuals isn't harmful. The mostly non-stellar singers are exemplary, starting with a trio of Rheinmaidens who sing absoutely beautifully and an Alberich who malevolence is totally convincing. The Bayretuh acoustic is almost as good as a studio recording, albeit some details (such as the trumpetfanfaress in Scene 1 that celebrate the gold when the sunlight hits it) can feel a bit underplayed. With the microphones in the pit, the orchestral part is neither muffled nor distant. The voices are crystal clear, and Philips has done well in softening the sharp treble that listeners complained about on the LPs. Stage noises are considerable; the audience is silent.

For once the legendary Bayreuth orchestra actually plays like a world-class ensemble, kept together meticulously by Boulez. At the time his avoidance of Wangerian convention (i.e., ponderousness and weighty 'importance') was controversial. Now it feels both natural and refreshing. Some of the major roles aren't completely satisfying on CD, starting with Donald McIntyre's Wotan. He has a strong voice and stage presence, but the pscyhological depth of a Hans Hotter is missing; fortunately, McIntyre does his best to dramatize his lines. Happily, the Loge, aided by the fast pace, sounds like a real fire spirit and ot just a retired German tenor--this one is a bit srill and sharp-voiced, which suits the role. The Mime is even stronger (to tell the truth, he should have been the Loge since he has a mellower voice).

The scene changes and prelude are excitingly played--the entrance into the Niebelugen world after Scene 1 is quqite thrilling, and the anvils come through with force, if not exactly the ring of terror the have in Karajan's recording for DG. Donner's clanging hammer in Scene 4 is feelbe, but the resulting thunder is admirably loud. As for the climax, I've heard grander and more exalted entires of the gods into Valhalla--Boulez prefers a light, lyrical rainbow bridge.

In sum, a great Rheingold that bows to none, especially in its conducting and dramatic impact.

'Die Walküre'.
Donald McIntyre Wotan ; Jeannine Altmeyer sop Sieglinde ; Gwyneth Jones sop Brünnhilde ; Carmen Reppel sop Gerhilde ; Katie Clarke sop Helmwige ; Karen Middleton sop Ortlinde ; Hanna Schwarz mez Fricka ; Gabriele Schnaut mez Waltraute ; Elisabeth Glauser mez Rossweisse ; Marga Schiml mez Siegrune ; Ilse Gramatzki mez Grimgerde ; Gwendoline Killebrew cont Schwertleite ; Peter Hofmann ten Siegmund ; Matti Salminen bass Hunding

The PBS audience thirty yeaars ago was captivated by this Walkure, especially the handsome, touching Siegmund of Peter Hoffmann, then an unknown in the U.S. However, on CD there have always been complaints about the leads. Without Nilsson as Brunnhilde, we begin to run into vocal limitations in the second installment of the "Ring," a fact as true today as in 1976. So how does the Boulez version hold up without the charismatic visuals?

As with Rheingold, I have no reservations about the reecorded sound, the orchestra, or Boulez'a conducting. Everything is first-rate, despite numberous stage noises, and there is not the slightest muffle due to the covered orchestra pit--the engineers have taken care of that. Boulez's swift modernist approach sounds as gripping as ever, totally convincing except to die-hard traditionalists who might go into shock when these tempos are set against Knappertsbusch's.

These positives set the stage for the singers, and even moderately good ones will do (by no means are any as bad as the worst in Furtwangler's two Ring cycles from Italy). Happily, the young-sounding Siegmund and Sieglinde, while hardly the equal of Melcoir and Lehmann (or anywhere close) remain dramatically convincing without the aid of visuals. Altmeyer and Hoffmann really make you believe in their characters, conveying a touching vulnerability. We get really first-rate singing form Salminen's black-voiced Hunding, Schwarz's Fricka (she also stood out in Rheingold), and, with reservations, McIntyre's Wotan. He is more than respectable, but the character fails to reach the musical heights of Hotter and the superb Thomas Stewart for Karajan. His weakest moment, unfortunately, is at the end, where his farewell to Brunnhilde encoutners vocal fatigue and fails to be emotionally moving, despite Boulez's lovely underpinnings.

This Walkure has to be appreciated as a conductor-and-stage-director's performance. If you wait for a stunning Der Maner Sippe or Wintersturme, you will be disappointed. I have saved Gwyneth Jones's Brunnhilde for last, given her controversial status. First of all, she made a stunning impact on film, equalled only by Hildegarde Behrens in her generation. The good news is that this early in her career, Jones is in best voice; the bad is that she wobbles and can't be trusted to be on pitch. I would rank her far below Nilsson and well below Crepin (Karajan's compelling Brunnhilde) in the modern era, but in no way i Jones embarrassing. Her Ho-jo-to-ho's, in fact, are believable and thrilling. Where it counts most dramatically--in the confrontation with Siegmund in Act 2 and the finale scenes with Wotan--Jones comes through.

In sum, this is a completely satisfying 'Walkure' on all counts but the singing, which is never less than veyr good but doesn't reach the heights. Since I love music drama more than opera per se, I would rank Boulez's recording above Solti on DEcca or the live Bohm account, also form Bayreuth, on Philips.


'Siegfried'.
Donald McIntyre Wanderer ; Hermann Becht Alberich ; Gwyneth Jones sop Brünnhilde ; Norma Sharp sop Woodbird ; Ortrun Wenkel cont Erda ; Manfred Jung, Siegfried ; Heinz Zednik, Mime ; Fritz Hübner, Fafner


With two totally convincing installments uner his belt, Boulez raised my hopes for Siegfried. As in those performances, the Bayreuth orchestra sounds first-rate and is vividly cuahgt by the Philips engineers without the usual muffled sonics on other Wanger recordings from this site. The pacing is swift and draatically pointed--in that regard boulez surpasses the overly driven Solti and the too laid back Karajan. The recent appearnace of Keilberth's 1955 live siegfried gave us one of the best sung on records, but Boulez is far ahead of Keilberth dramatically and musically.

It's a given that 'Siegfried' brings compromises, then as now. Without singers of almost superhuman ability, every prduction must settle. Fortunately, this cast has the huge benefit of sounding dramatically committed. The Mime of a young Heinz Zednik is as good as one could hope for. Manfred Jung has a light, rather shrill voice for Siegfried, but he's youthful and totally committed to the role, which counts for a lot. The forging Scene requires deft tricks for him to get through it, but that's true for every Siegfried since Melchior. In any event, nobody since 1974 has surpassed Jung, which is something. My only reget is that he runs out of steam by the last act.

Gwyneth Jones made for a thrilling Brunnhilde in all respects--she was young strikingly good-looking, and dramatically convincing. But the Waking Scene is cruelly difficult; it requires a lustrous dramatic soprano to plant her feet and let fly. Like everyone else, I wish Jones's voice didnd't wobble and that she was on pitch more often, but there's no doubt that she lets fly. She is caught at her youthful best, and in the absence of Nilsson or Jane Eaglen, I can't think of a better Brunnhilde in the modern era.

This leaves the excellent but not great Wotan of Donald McIntyre, who tends to roar and bluster--he lacks real stature aas a character. Still, there's no doubt that he has a powerful, commanding voice. The minor roles are all well taken.

In sum, what makes this Siegfried a notable success is Boulez, who dominates every aspect of this Ring cycle. We get a good cast as far as drama goes, somewhat less appealing vocally. and the finale scene between Brunnhilde and Siegfried, which needs to be the opera's crowning glory, is a major letdown. For that reason, I think three and a half stars is about right.


'Götterdämmerung'.
Hermann Becht Alberich ; Franz Mazura Gunther ; Gwyneth Jones sop Brünnhilde ; Jeannine Altmeyer sop Gutrune ; Norma Sharp sop Woglinde ; Ilse Gramatzki sop Wellgunde ; Katie Clarke sop Third Norn ; Gwendoline Killebrew mez Waltraute ; Marga Schiml mez Flosshilde ; Gabriele Schnaut mez Second Norn ; Ortrun Wenkel cont First Norn ; Manfred Jung ten Siegfried ; Fritz Hübner bass Hagen

I'm going to offer the same rationale for this 'Gotterdammerung' that is regularly offered for Furtwangler's Ring cycles from Italy. Ignore the erratic singers and concentrate on the orchestral part. This is the opera to do that in, because Wagner was at the height of his mastery in every bar of 'Gotterdamemrung.' Boulez rises to such a high level of inspiration that I think only Furtwangler--his exact opposite aesthetically--offers a comparison.

After thirty years, the cotnroversy surrounding Boulez's approach (too fast, not traditional enough, spirituality shallow) is moot. What we hear now is a great musician at work. The orchestral execution is stunning and caught all but perfectly by Philips' engineers, who put their microphones directly in the covered pit at Bayreuth. If there's a modern performance that can get by entirely on the orchestral part, it's this one--for pure virtuosity the Vienna Phil. under Solti and the Berlin Phil. under Karajan are finer, but neither conductor, I feel, can match Boulez's thrilling drama.

All of which sounds like a prelude to damning the singers with faint praise. Sadly, I have to. The roles of Brunnhilde an Siegfried are too taxing for Gwyneth Jones and (especially) Manfred Jung. Her birght, youthful dramatic soprano is closer to right, even with its pronounced wobble, than his light, rather shrill tenor, but vocal glory escapes both. I must say, however, that Jones has rarely been surpassed for emotional flexibility, and her vocally flawed Immolation Scene is totally convincing at the dramatic level.

Happily, everyone else sounds very good, but it's hard to overlook the sometimes gaping hole in the middle of this reading. This may sound like half a loaf, but in its totality this recording has more going for it vocally than either Furtwangler cycle, even given Flagstad's unique contribution. It also surpasses the cycles from Haitink on EMI and Levine on DG.

In sum, this is a conductor's 'Gotterdammerung,' and by that standard it deserves five stars. It's shocking that British critics have dissed Boulez so consistently over the years as they overpraised Bohm and Solti. The singers reach a level that would be hard to equal today, much less surpass. Even so, one can't pretend that they rise to the excellence of Solti's famed cast for Decca."
"Im hochsten Leid mus dich treulos die Treue verlassen!"
Eric S. Kim | Southern California | 07/23/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Okay, so we have the Furtwangler, Krauss, Solti, Bohm, Karajan, Goodall, Boulez, Janowski, Levine, Haitink, Sawallisch, and Barenboim Rings on the market (I haven't listened to the other Ring recordings yet, sorry to say). And all of these leave me to one conclusion: the many differences lead me to believe that all of these ring sets have their own authenticities and setbacks. And here we have Pierre Boulez conducting the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra.

This Ring production is unique because it was a radical change. Instead of a Norse setting or a Sci-Fi genre, this one had been set in a industrial age. It became controversial when it premiered, but it is now seen as a classic. Boulez isn't my favorite Wagner conductor, but here he does a splendid job. To fit the Ring Cycle in the industrial age, Boulez gives it a very Schoenbergian, Bartokian atmosphere. Much of his tempi are very quick, very Bohm-like, though they're still not as fast as Bohm.

Boulez turns this orchestra into an almost chamber orchestra (like Karajan's). While it doesn't really pack the same punches as Bohm's Bayreuth, it still delivers a stunning performance. Orchestral interaction between characters (Ex. Siegfried's motifs mixed in with Rhinemaidens' motifs) fares better than Berlin Philharmonic's, but is crushed when compared to English National Opera's. Rhine maiden motifs are given more wit, while the Dragon motifs are played with less eeriness.

Brace yourselves. The singers of this Ring are farily unsatisfractory. If you watch Donald McIntyre on the Centennial Ring production, then you can tell that he's a fine "industrial" Wotan. If you just hear him on CD, then you'll be disappointed. His diction is weak, his emotions are forced, and his voice sounds robotic. It's a miserable failure.

But how can anyone not be impressed by the Brunnhilde of Gwyneth Jones? One can almost feel her excitement during Siegfried Act Three, and her fear in Walkure Act Three. Her weakest point is probably during her "Immolation Scene" (a bit too stressed).

Peter Hoffman and Jeanine Altmeyer are fantastic as Siegmund and Sieglinde. And they're even better on DVD. The heroism and innocence in both roles are taken seriously; the goodness of each character are given justice. It's never disappointing.

But what about their son? Surely he doesn't put shame in the family name, right? WRONG. Is Manfred Jung a good tenor? Yes. Is he a good Heldentenor? NO. He doesn't have that heroic voice like Windgassen and Remedios. I like him better when he's performing as Mime in later Ring productions.

What we have here is the weak Alberich of Hermann Becht. When he's in Nibelheim, the authority isn't there. When he's in the Neid-Hohle forest, the creepiness isn't there. And when he's near the Gibich house, the misery isn't there. Even on DVD he's unsatisfactory.

Heinz Zednik is one of the excellent Mimes on disc, VERY fun to listen to. There is much humor and eccentricity in his voice, and that's what makes his dwarf much more compelling than Gregory Dempsey's dwarf in the Goodall set. His performance in Rheingold Scene Three is pure gold, while his performance in Siegfried (particularly "Willkommen, Siegfried!") is a stunning achievement. Zednik is also a fine Loge.

The others in this Centennial cast are mixed. Ortrun Wenkel as Erda sounds appropriately mystical, while Matti Salminen's Hunding is rightly sinister. Fritz Hübner as Hagen isn't powerful enough; the blackness of the voice isn't there, so he gets a minus. But he gets a plus for his performace of Fafner. Franz Mazura isn't a good Gunther; I miss the voice of Thomas Stewart and Hans Gunter Nocker. The Rheindaughters are mediore, I guess. The vassals could've added more work here.

So I wouldn't say that this is the best Ring on record (my favorite at the moment is the Janowski ring), but it isn't a failure either. I would for the orchestra and the conductor rather than the singers if I were you.


Boulez DVD set: Wagner - Der Ring des Nibelungen / Pierre Boulez, Bayreuth Opera (Complete Ring Cycle, Parts 1-4)"