A minor caveat first. Listeners will have to adjust to the voice/orchestra balance: the former is highlighted to an irritating degree in Act 1. This is clearly due to decisions by the engineers rather than the artists–soloists and instrumentalists sound as if they come from different acoustics. The ear adjusts, and the performance impresses mightily–and the final act comes closer to a really good balance, despite the fact that it’s clearly a concert performance. The Valkyries are right there, standing in front of you.
This is a Walküre that reveals its treasures slowly.Read more It is not a Boulezian or Böhmish reading–tension comes not from speed and nervous energy but from expansive build-ups. But it’s also not Furtwänglerian or Barenboimesque: rather than vast waves of sound, we get transparency from the orchestra. I really enjoyed the Rheingold, released several months ago, from the same source; I compared it to Karajan’s recording and I can safely do the same here: it’s a warm, intimate reading.
Matthias Goerne, the great Lieder singer, is the Wotan, as he was in Rheingold. There are moments in Act 2 where I noted that he lacked the force I’m accustomed to, but then I realized: his is a Wotan filled with sadness after his losing confrontation with Fricka (the marvelous, colorful Michelle de Young); rage and joy are both gone to him and his lengthy monologues are filled with resignation and tortured conflict. In Act 3, though, he terrifies with his “Wo ist Brünnhilde?”, but after the anger subsides he’s all dark sadness. And his Abschied is ravishing. It’s really quite a beautiful performance. Will he live vocally through the Siegfried Wanderer, due to be released in a few months?
The Wälsungs are stunning. Stuart Skelton sings Siegmund as if it were an easy role. His tone is big and clean, wobble-free, truly tenorish rather than pushed-up baritone. And his cries of “Wälse” in Act 1 have to be heard to be believed: a 10-second crescendo on the second one is shockingly intense. He’s also ardent and loving throughout the rest of the act, and his responses to Brünnhilde during the Announcement of Death are filled with sadness, disbelief, and finally, a flat refusal to give in to his fate. Heidi Melton’s Sieglinde is brighter and more soprano-like than I prefer, but she’s wonderfully expressive. The listener hangs on every perfectly pronounced, clear word she and Skelton sing, and thanks to Zweden, who leads their interactions as if the opera were bel canto, we feel for them. Interrupting their budding love is Falk Struckmann, surprisingly (he’s a baritone, not a bass). He is a grand, scary Hunding.
Petra Lang’s Brünnhilde is a mixed blessing. Girlish and impetuous, she whoops up to the high Bs and Cs of her “Hojotoho” with fun and accuracy. As far as the drama goes, she’s always attentive and sincere, questioning in Act 2 with Wotan, formal and commanding with Siegmund. She (and Melton) thrill in their exciting Act 3 scene. Her transformation from perky warrior maiden to sympathetic adult and then back to beseeching child is vivid. But too often her tone turns cloudy in the middle of her voice and sounds–excuse me–like that of an old lady. As pure sound, it’s no delight.
Maestro van Zweden never gets in the way. Yes, the tempos for the last 15 minutes of the first act could have been sped up a bit, but even the slow, slow Wotan/Brünnhilde dialogue in Act 2 is deep rather than dull; the Todesverkündegung is not quite as tragically profound. The opening of the second and third acts are suitably big and impressive, the Ride and its aftermath electrify with their power, attention to ensemble, and fearless group of Valkyries. The orchestra plays wonderfully for the most part (a couple of horn bobbles in the second act pass quickly); textures are translucent; brass ring out; lower strings offer danger and sadness. The word I’d have to use for this performance–if I were allowed only one–would be, “beautiful”.