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Wagner: Siegfried / Young, Franz, Galliard, Struckmann, Foster, Hamburg State Opera

Wagner / Young; / Philharmoniker Hamburg Franz
Release Date: 07/26/2011 
Label:  Oehms   Catalog #: 927  
Composer:  Richard Wagner
Performer:  Peter GalliardChristian FranzWolfgang KochFalk Struckmann,   ... 
Conductor:  Simone Young
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Hamburg State Opera ChorusHamburg State Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 4 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

WAGNER Siegfried Simone Young, cond; Christian Franz ( Siegfried ); Peter Galliard ( Mime ); Falk Struckmann ( Wanderer ); Wolfgang Koch ( Alberich ); Diogenes Randes ( Fafner ); Deborah Humble ( Erda ); Catherine Foster ( Read more class="ARIAL12i">Brünnhilde ); Ha Young Lee ( Woodbird ); Hamburg PO OEHMS OC 927 (4 CDs: 240:27 Text and Translation) Live: Hamburg 10/2009

By the look of things, Oehms Classics has a pair of Rings in progress simultaneously. In Fanfare 34:6, I covered a Das Rheingold from Frankfurt led by Sebastian Weigel. That cycle will be completed in the theater in 2013 and one assumes that the rest of the dramas will be appearing on CD over the next couple of years. Simone Young, music director of the Hamburg Philharmonic and general manager of the Staatsoper Hamburg, has a jump on Weigel—her Rheingold and Die Walküre are already available. Fanfare missed the Rheingold, but Lynn René Bayley wrote up Die Walküre in 33:5. My colleague’s negative assessment came in the context of a blazing denunciation of “the deterioration of artistic standards in general” that have led, in Bayley’s view, to the proliferation on the operatic stage of what’s often—maybe too often—dismissed as “Eurotrash.” The closest thing to a compliment in that review was in respect to Simone Young: “She has a great command of orchestral balances … and lyricism.” I’d go much further and suggest that the Australian conductor, who turns 51 this year, has an excellent command of Wagnerian syntax, and that this performance of Siegfried, derived from performances in October 2009, is well worth hearing.

Young reminds me that, over the years, Siegfried has become my favorite Ring drama. She maintains a taut dramatic momentum throughout and makes the most of some instrumental passages that aren’t always especially memorable. For example, the prelude to act II, at 6:09, is more deliberate than most, beginning with almost imperceptible string tremolos and featuring an expressive, mood-setting tuba solo. “Forest Murmurs” is exceptionally evocative, and the long stretch of music connecting scenes 2 and 3 of the last act is artfully shaped.

With one exception, the singing is more than satisfactory. Christian Franz may not possess a Heldentenor on the scale of a Ben Heppner or Peter Siefert, but he uses it intelligently. (Franz was the Siegfried for the Ring I saw on my first visit to Bayreuth in 2003, and his voice was certainly big enough for the relatively small space of the Festspielhaus.) The violence with which he bangs away at Notung during the forging scene comes across as a reflection of just how desperately he wants to escape his childhood home; his musings beneath the linden tree in act II are quite lovely. In Peter Galliard, Franz has a terrific Mime to work off of. One can sense their mutual dislike in act I blossom into frank loathing by the time they reach Fafner’s cave. As Alberich, Wolfgang Koch has a dark but articulate baritone that’s exactly right for the role and his character’s bitterness at his second act entrance is palpable—when he actually sees Wotan, he practically shouts his displeasure. Diogenes Randes, the Fafner, doesn’t lose power when producing his lowest notes. Deborah Humble sounds mature and wise as Erda, but not matronly.

It’s Falk Struckman that disappoints. Struckman is an experienced, battle-tested Wagnerian, and serves well as a Kurwenal or Gunther, even as Amfortas. But his instrument just isn’t plush or commanding enough to bring off Wotan (or Sachs), and as the Wanderer here, he sounds as though he’s pushing his voice to make it sound grander—there’s squeezing, a coarsening of texture, and a vibrato that gets overly wide. The lower part of his range can degenerate into a kind of growl. Struck does have a deep understanding of his role; his finest stretch in this performance is his long speech to Erda when he lets her know that he’s come to terms with the manner in which events, inevitably, are going to unfold.

Catherine Foster awakens sounding refreshed, her voice focused, accurate, and timbrally appealing. Foster sang Brünnhilde for the Weimar Ring cycle on an Arthaus Blu-ray or DVD—now that’s Eurotrash!—and it’s heartening to see her central to a more successful endeavor. The love duet works here because Young doesn’t demand more of the music than it can deliver, in terms of erotic heat. There’s a measured, almost gentle trajectory to Siegfried and Brünnhilde’s passion that matches the contour of Wagner’s music—it’s a level of intensity down from Tristan, or even the first act of Die Walküre.

Sonically, vocal/instrumental balances are good, though orchestral clarity is just average; the horn solo heard right before Siegfried battles the dragon lacks brilliance. Oehms’s four-CD set includes a 150-page booklet that holds the libretto in German and English as well as a lengthy, penetrating essay by Udo Bernbach, a publisher of the German journal Wagnerspectrum. No notes on the performers.

FANFARE: Andrew Quint
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Works on This Recording

Siegfried by Richard Wagner
Performer:  Peter Galliard (Tenor), Christian Franz (Tenor), Wolfgang Koch (Baritone),
Falk Struckmann (Baritone), Catherine Foster (Soprano)
Conductor:  Simone Young
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Hamburg State Opera Chorus,  Hamburg State Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1871; Germany 

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