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Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen [Box Set]
Hans Günther Nöcker, Richard [Classical] Wagner, Marek Janowski
Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen [Box Set]
Genre: Classical
 
  •  Track Listings (18) - Disc #1
  •  Track Listings (22) - Disc #2
  •  Track Listings (11) - Disc #3
  •  Track Listings (11) - Disc #4
  •  Track Listings (11) - Disc #5
  •  Track Listings (8) - Disc #6
  •  Track Listings (14) - Disc #7
  •  Track Listings (12) - Disc #8
  •  Track Listings (11) - Disc #9
  •  Track Listings (10) - Disc #10
  •  Track Listings (12) - Disc #11
  •  Track Listings (10) - Disc #12
  •  Track Listings (14) - Disc #13
  •  Track Listings (14) - Disc #14

Made between 1980 and 1983, this was the first digital recording of Wagner's Ring cycle. Upon rehearing, it has stood up very well. Janowski's conducting is no-nonsense, no-attitude: he presents the music beautifully playe...  more »

      
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Amazon.com
Made between 1980 and 1983, this was the first digital recording of Wagner's Ring cycle. Upon rehearing, it has stood up very well. Janowski's conducting is no-nonsense, no-attitude: he presents the music beautifully played by the Dresden forces, with a fine feeling for the drama and relatively swift tempi. The end of Rheingold has great majesty, the opening storm and third act Ride in Walkuere are well-propelled and exciting, and the gorgeous music which takes Siegfried to Brünnhilde's rock is as beautiful as can be, while Siegfried's Rhine Journey is airy and optimistic and his Funeral music suitably heavy and tragic. Theo Adam is a fine Wotan/Wanderer, rising to great dramatic heights in Siegfried; Jessye Norman and Siegfried Jerusalem as the Volsung Twins are at their youthful best; Matti Salminen's Hagen is menacing and cruel; Siegmund Nimsgern doesn't miss a trick as Alberich; Peter Schreier's Mime is Siegfried is truly sung, rather than yelped, and very vivid (as is his Rheingold Loge); Yvonne Minton is a less-shrewish-than-usual Fricka and Norma Sharp is the most aviary Forest Bird on disc. René Kollo's Siegfried is not exactly heroic, but he inflects nicely and is always involved and spirited. The set's only weakness is not terminal but it's a pity: Jeannine Altmeyer is a lovely, intelligent singer, but her voice is too light for Brünnhilde and she's not the riveting character she should be. Luxury casting elsewhere (Lucia Popp is a Rhinemaiden; Cheryl Studer a Valkyrie) pays off. The accompanying booklet contains an essay and scene-by-scene synopsis, but no libretto. But at midprice, this handsome-sounding set is a very good bet. --Robert Levine
 

CD Reviews

The All-Purpose RING
F. P. Walter | Albuquerque, NM | 02/13/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"No, you'll never hear a perfect RING. There are just too many variables, options, and difficulties; plus it's an organic entity that takes over 15 hours to stage, so the law of averages automatically kicks in: when you've got more things that can go wrong, more WILL go wrong.

And so it is with its multitudinous recordings. Among the live versions, the earlier ones (Furtwaengler, Krauss, Knappertsbusch) suffer from murky sound, while even those in decent stereo (Boehm, Boulez, Sawallisch, Barenboim) feature thuds, clunks, and assorted live-performance anomalies that grow less endearing with each listening. As for the studio recordings, they're variously undermined by continuity problems (Solti, Karajan), subpar singing (Swarowsky), or deficiencies in tension and energy (Levine, Haitink).

Which brings us to this Marek Janowski set. One of the overlooked achievements of the waning LP era, it was the first all-digital RING, recorded in just 29 efficient months during the early 80s. Late in the same decade it was the first version to debut on CD, at the top of the 90s a mid-price edition emerged, and this dirt-cheap reissue now marks its first appearance in the 21st century. It's a bargain on anybody's terms, and after several return visits down through the years, I'm now ready to name it the cycle with the fewest things wrong and the most right.

First off, it's registered in clean, ungussied digital stereo of exceptional radiance and lucidity - massed strings can be a tad opaque, hinting at its pioneer status, otherwise the color and fine detail are ravishing, plus the whole event has the definite feel of being recorded in long takes: it offers the commitment and intensity of a live performance minus the wrong notes and stage noises. Second, it showcases lithe, athletic playing from Dresden's underpublicized but authentically great orchestra - strings turn on a dime, woodwind staccati are needle sharp, brass are lean and subtly integrated. In contrast to their only continental peers in this repertory - the Vienna PO with its creamy sweetness and the the Berlin PO with its iron power - the Dresdeners favor sheen, transparency, and fast reflexes, lightning as well as thunder. Yes, they can whip up a glowering storm in the SIEGFRIED Act III prelude, but you'll never hear a Rhine journey with more wit, sparkle, and agility.

Janowski's propulsive conducting is invaluable for two main reasons. 1) Beyond projecting the RING's well-known tempests and tensions, he also puts over its comedy and irony - the sly mischief of the Rhinemaids, the gallows humor during the valkyrie confab, the sad silliness of the nibelung squawkfest in SIEGFRIED II iii. 2) He's exceptionally alert to Wagner's dramaturgy, to its NARRATIVE ebb, flow, and movement toward crisis. Janowski's pacing is ideal at the great turning points - Alberich stealing the gold, Erda's intervention when Wotan won't give up the ring (Solti is oblivious here), the mounting violence in Siegfried's meeting with the Wanderer (here Karajan is gingerly), the tension building under Siegfried's narrative in GOETTERDAEMMERUNG III ii as he gradually incriminates himself. This is strong-minded, purposeful conducting that I suspect even Wagner himself would have admired.

The cast, too, is exemplary. For one thing, it's a true ensemble with the same talent staying on board to the finish: out of 12 recurring roles, 11 are single cast (sole exception: Mime, not fatally disruptive). Plus these singers, with unbeaten consistency, are both listenable and characterful. The set's original manufacturer, Ariola-Eurodisc, was a major player during the decade prior, recording both operatic rarities (Schubert, Orff) and standards (FIDELIO, CARMEN). Eurodisc had the budgets to sign up the biggest names, and here even bit parts can be stunningly cast - Kurt Moll as Hunding, Lucia Popp and Hanna Schwarz as Rhinemaidens, Cheryl Studer and Ruth Falcon as walkueren. A couple of the supporting players are routine - Stryczek's rough-and-ready Donner, Noecker's decently sung but undercharacterized Gunther - otherwise Siegmund Nimsgern is the optimum Alberich, a full-bodied character baritone with a genuine legato and meaty high Gs, while Peter Schreier doubles Loge and the SIEGFRIED Mime with imagination, gusto, and (gasp!) real singing.

And so it goes: Jessye Norman and Siegfried Jerusalem are a Sieglinde and Siegmund competitive with anybody's, Yvonne Minton a Fricka of icy loveliness, Ortrun Wenkel intense and specific as Erda and Waltraute, Norma Sharp cool and pretty as both Gutrune and the woodbird, while a young Matti Salminen turns in the most baleful Hagen since Frick - and a Fafner so innately cavernous, his dragon scarcely needs any special miking. As for the three leads, our Wotan is Theo Adam, who probably clocked more stage hours in the role than anybody in Wagner history. By the time of the recording he'd logged 22 RING seasons, but his high bass still has plenty to offer - interpretive savvy, trusty top notes, dead-center intonation. WALKUERE III iii finds the old pro in below-form voice, struggling for focus and steadiness; elsewhere, amazingly, his sound is firmer and more burnished than fifteen years earlier under Boehm (compare the "Abendlich strahlt" in RHEINGOLD, or SIEGFRIED III i). Overall he's a rugged, patriarchal Wotan and he catches the curve of the character superbly, politician, rageaholic, and shaman.

As his daughter Bruennhilde, California soprano Jeannine Altmeyer has been shamefully undervalued down through the years. I heard her LA Isolde in the mid 80s, and trust me, this is a big, carrying voice. Stack her against her recent peers: she has a fuller, steadier instrument than Behrens, a lovelier sound than Marton, the upper extension that Dernesch hadn't, and Jones's caterwauling is beneath discussion. No, she hasn't the slash and bite of dominatrix Bruennhildes like Nilsson and Varnay; instead she offers page after page of fresh, supple, centered sound, you pick the note. She's the aural equivalent of the young, willowy Bruennhilde in Arthur Rackham's watercolors, and it's high time we noticed: Altmeyer is the valkyrie easiest on the ears.

Lastly Rene Kollo's contributions are arguably his most valuable on disc. As John Culshaw once wrote, we must think of the younger Siegfried "as a youth instead of an adult," so dark-timbred tenors such as Melchior, Suthaus, and Windgassen can present big credibility problems. Kollo is near ideal: his silver sound is mainstream lyric tenor - even chest tones preserve a basic leanness and lucidity - but its fine-line definition means unexpected carrying power and maneuverability; in short, he's persuasively youthful yet he can cut through heavy orchestration. Some soft passages, though, catch him thinning the support out of the voice (e.g., "Es sangen die Voeglein" in SIEGFRIED I i), but it's still a splendid achievement, vividly phrased, both mercurial and meditative. And he's fine, too, as his elder self in GOETTERDAEMMERUNG, though not quite as indispensable.

All of which, taken together, accounts for this RING's front-to-back superiority - digital stereo of documentary directness and transparency; podium leadership that articulates narrative structure while projecting not only its passion and poignance but (rare indeed) its comedy and irony; and a repertory casting policy that generates both good sound and plausible characterization. Yes, a couple of the bit players are substandard, but the leads are astonishingly persuasive - Adam's leonine Wotan, Altmeyer's mellifluous Bruennhilde, and several who are arguably Best in Stereo: Kollo's Siegfried, Nimsgern's Alberich, Norman's Sieglinde, Schreier's Mime, Salminen's Fafner and Hagen. In short, it's the All-Purpose RING - ideal for the first-time listener who really hopes the epic will make sense, excellent for the score-in-hand professional who wants a clear, dependable reference edition that actually does what his score says. For me it's the version that has stood up best under repeated listening; so treat it as your basic set, then supplement it, if you like, with choice alternatives - Karajan's WALKUERE, say, or Solti's GOETTERDAEMMERUNG, or Krauss's mono edition.

RCA's bare-bones booklet offers plot summaries but no libretto. Not a problem. For under $20 Amazon can sell you WAGNER'S RING OF THE NIBELUNG by Stewart Spencer et al. (ISBN 0500281947), a reader-friendly modern translation complete with beneficial annotations, commentaries, and background material.
"
Oh that Dresden sound...
Mr. Matthew J. Williams | Sydney, NSW Australia | 04/15/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"The Dresden Orchestra is among my favourites - it has this wonderful autumnal sound that suits Wagner & Strauss to a 'T'.
Janowski's conducting is ideal for living with - he keeps things moving along nicely, sets up climaxes perfectly and never loses sight of the overall structure of the operas. This thoroughly musical performance would be an ideal introduction for anyone coming fresh to the ring, as it lacks the eccentricities of other cycles that can overtake your expectations of what 'should be'. More experienced ring collectors, too, will find themselves enthralled by much in this set.

More than any of the recent recordings Janowski's casting quality runs deep into all the minor roles, and has the advantage of having the same casts for the same roles throughout the four operas. Since Amazon does not clearly list the singers with the roles I will do so at the end of the review.

Highlights are many, and there are even some highlights in the context of the whole recorded history of the Ring (especially considering this is the first in digital sound and still the most natural and clear recording available, with voices and orchestra in perfect balance).

Worthy of special mention are the young Jerusalem & Norman as Siegmund & Sieglinde (Act 1 of Die Walkure must be among the best ever); Nimsgern's articulate Alberich; the Rhinemaidens (have they ever sounded so beautiful?); Peter Schreier's ideally characterised Loge & Mime; and Kurt Moll's cavernous Hunding. Theo Adam's years of experience shine through a wonderfully lived-in if occasionally unsteady Wotan. The Valkyries, boasting several rising stars, are among the very best groups ever assembled.

Kollo's Siegfried is wonderful in the opera that bears his name, a little forced sometimes in Gotterdammerung but still musical. Altmeyer's Brunnhilde isn't particularly attention grabbing - very pleasant in tone but a bit penny-plain in interpretation. She is always adequate but something more insightful (a la Varnay or Behrens) would have been nice. Having said that, I think criticism of her has been too harsh - she has a lovely voice and can hardly be said to spoil this recording. Perhaps it's that, with everything else so fine, one wishes for an all-conquering Brunnhilde to crown the set.

But I come back to the orchestral contribution, which is captured in the finest detail and most beautiful sound on disc. An unregrettable purchase.

Das Rheingold:

Wotan: Theo Adam
Donner: Karl-Heinz Stryczek
Froh: Eberhard Buchner
Loge: Peter Schreier
Alberich: Siegumnd Nimsgern
Mime: Christian Vogel
Fasolt: Roland Bracht
Fafner: Matti Salminen
Fricka: Yvonne Minton
Freia: Marita Napier
Erda: Ortrun Wenkel

Woglinde: Lucia Popp
Wellgunde: Uta Priew
Flosshilde: Hanna Schwarz

Die Walkure:

Siegmund: Siegfried Jerusalem
Hunding: Kurt Moll
Wotan: Theo Adam
Sieglinde: Jessye Norman
Brunnhilde: Jeannine Altmeyer
Fricka: Yvonne Minton
(Valkyries:)
Gerhilde: Eva-Maria Bundschuh
Ortlinde: Cheryl Studer
Waltraute: Ortrun Wenkel
Schwertleite: Anne Gjevang
Helmwiege: Ruth Falcon
Siegrune: Christel Borchers
Grimgarde: Kathleen Kuhlmann
Rossweisse: Uta Priew

Siegfried:

Siegfried: Rene Kollo
Mime: Peter Schreier
Der Wanderer: Theo Adam
Alberich: Siegmund Nimsgern
Fafner: Matti Salminen
Erda: Ortrun Wenkel
Brunnhilde: Jeannine Altmeyer
Voice of a Forest Bird: Norma Sharp

Gotterdammerung:

Siegfried: Rene Kollo
Gunther: Hans Gunter Nocker
Alberich: Siegmund Nimsgern
Hagen: Matti Salminen
Brunnhilde: Jeannine Altmeyer
Gutrune: Norma Sharp
Waltraute: Ortrun Wenkel
First Norn: Anne Gjevang
Second Norn: Daphne Evangelatos
Third Norn: Ruth Falcon
Woglinde: Lucia Popp
Wellgunde: Uta Priew
Flosshilde: Hanna Schwarz

"
Excellent conducting and great singers with a few flaws
The Cultural Observer | 07/04/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)

"This Ring by Janowski has a lot of strong points that would make it essential for those who love Wagner's Ring. The most prominent feature of this recording, of course, is the fabulous playing of Wagner's score by the Dresden Staatskapelle. Someone familiar with Solti or Bohm would find that Janowski's musical phrasing is much lighter in weight than the usual meat and potatoes Wagner listeners are accustomed to. When I say lighter in weight, I don't mean that the orhcestra sounds leaner (like Levine's orchestra which sounds like diet Wagner), but that the orchestral phrasing of each musical component is highlighted and well-balanced. It is a very classical reading, with a Brahmsian quality to it, and the phrasing is unusually flexible for a German orchestra. I think this reading of the work brings out more of Wagner's polyphonic structures more so than any other conductor was able to do. For the orchestral reading alone would I recommend this Ring, but the cast is quite strong too. For example, you have Jessye Norman and Siegfried Jerusalem as the Walsung twins. While Jerusalem and Norman would not erase memories of Rysanek, King, Vickers, and Janowitz, they are a very credible pair at the prime of their careers. Theo Adam's Wotan was never a large-Hotter like sound, but what he makes up for lack of weight is an intelligent reading that most of today's Wotans could never touch. It is a very insightful reading, although he was much better for Bohm. Siegmund Nimsgern is an excellent Alberich, and Yvonne Minton makes a most beautifully vocalized and dramatized Fricka. The Norns, Rhinemaidens, Valkyries, and Gibichungs are all very well cast, with Matti Salminen coming to special mention for his amazing Hagen. Kurt Moll makes a most fabulous Hunding, and Peter Schreier's Loge and Mime are some of the best sung (and not yelped) character roles in the ring. Ortrun Wenkel's Erda and Waltraute are not to be missed.

Of course, I must speak of the two main characters--Brunnhilde and Siegfried, who are so essential to making any Ring work. The Siegfried in this recording is Rene Kollo. He is the first jugendlich dramatische heldentenor ever to be cast in the role at his prime in such a recording, and while several Bayreuth and pirate Rings showcase great tenor voices such as Hans Hopf, Melchior, Windgassen, and Treptow as Siegfried, no one had the kind of voice Wagner had in mind for the role. Rene Kollo has it all--sensitive phrasing, great acting, and a voice that spans Siegfried's vocal requirements. I think he is one of the best Siegfrieds since Jess Thomas.

Brunnhilde is taken by Jeannine Altmeyer, who was Sieglinde in Boulez's ring in the 1976 Patrice Chereau production in Bayreuth. Hers is a light voice, a bit lighter than Crespin's, but unfortunately she doesn't do as much wonders with the role the way Crespin does. It is a very young, girlish Brunnhilde that makes us believe that she is a willowy, gorgeous figure that Wagner had in mind when writing the Ring libretto. She isn't the most involved of singers though. It is very well vocalized, but lacks the beauty of expression given by singers such as Helga Dernesch, Gwyneth Jones, Regine Crespin, and Astrid Varnay. Still, her Brunnhilde is a wonderful addition to the discography (one could wish that she would work on her German a bit), and her interpretation gives us an image of a young, svelte woman.

The sound in this recording is excellent, and I'd recommend it to anyone who would want to understand the polyphonic scores of Wagner's ring."