Notes and Editorial Reviews
It is 36 years since [we] listened amazed to the revolution in sound of Decca's new recording of Das Rheingold, incredible as it may now seem, the first-ever version of the work to enter the catalogue — although now, of course, we have 'off-the-air' sets from a deal earlier. Decca have at last dared to challenge the hegemony, in their own catalogue at least, of that trail-blazing Solti recording — which many believe to be the best of his Ring readings.
Well, there can be no doubt that the latest state-of-the-art, digital technique produces a wider spread of sound, more precise detail, a greater breadth of dynamics than its revered predecessor. Working in Severance Hall, Cleveland, in December 1993 shortly after concert
performances (much praised in the US press) with substantially the same cast — only the Mime was different — Michael Woolcock and his team have managed to give us a modern recording of startling presence to which they have added several effects in true succession to those achieved by Culshaw and his team in their day in Vienna. The results are arresting — Alberich in a cavern, as it were, at the start of the second disc, the Nibelung anvils even more electrifying than on the old set. The whole is sonically impressive, apart from — familiar complaint — a tendency to place the singers too far from the centre of things.
With regard to Dohnanyi's interpretation, it has all the expected virtues. The orchestral balance is exemplary: every strand of the scoring can be heard. Dynamics are judged to a nicety. Transformations are handled so unerringly that we marvel anew at Wagner's mastery in that respect. Tempos are finely judged and relate well to each other. The playing of the Cleveland Orchestra has warmth and vitality. So I begin to wonder why I was not entirely capitulating to the performance. The answer lies perhaps in Dohnanyi's inclination (also evident in his Salome, 4/95, and Fidelio, 7/93) to be a shade didactic and bloodless. Another reason may be the decision to record, as it were, in the studio rather than during the live performances. Clinical exactitude is achieved at the expense of spontaneity. That can be immediately confirmed by direct comparison with the Barenboim set. Recorded live at Bayreuth that has the feel of the theatre to it — a sense that these performers are involving themselves in a real occasion — not singing coolly into a microphone.
On the other hand, the Decca set benefits from the way passages can be taken intimately, almost in a sotto voce, in a manner that wouldn't be possible in the opera house, as in Fafner's asides to his fellow Giant. Indeed, Decca take full advantage of a studio recording to achieve perspectives of one kind or another, mostly enhancing to the performance as a whole.
They have also assembled a cast carefully balanced between experienced and new interpreters. Among the former, Robert Hale repeats his warmly sung, commanding, clearly articulated Wotan known from the Sawallisch video set (EMI, 5/92). Hanna Schwarz's Fricka is possibly the most beautifully sung and inflected of the role on any set, managing to be at once a sympathetic wife and a force to reckon with. Kapellmann, though he seems to be new to Wagner recordings, is an experienced Alberich, as his lively declamation and clear treatment of the text proves. But almost all Alberichs are formidable: von Kannen for Barenboim, Nimsgern for Janowski, let alone the great Neidlinger for Solti disclose just as much if not more of the character's overweening hubris. Rootering is a firm-voiced Fasolt, but not one who suggests quite tenderly enough Fasolt's love for Freia, here sung with suitable agitation by Nancy Gustafson. Schreier, Janowski's nonpareil of a Loge, now brings his formidable intellectual armoury to bear on Mime's music: I can't wait to hear him again as the Siegfried Mime, which he also sang in the Janowski version of that work.
Among the newcomers pride of place must go to Kim Begley in his first major recording. This English tenor brings to bear on the role of Loge his incisive, secure voice and innate intelligence. The part, which exactly suits his timbre, is at once well characterized but never unduly so. If his compatriot, Graham Clark for Barenboim is that much keener and more confident with his words that is to be expected from a tenor noted for his assumption on stage and working in a live performance. Elena Zaremba is faultless as a grave, other-worldly Erda. Schulte, whom I have much admired at Bayreuth for his firm baritone, is a forthright Donner, Sunnegárdh a fluent Froh. The Rhinemaidens are a sensitive trio but not as pleasing on the ear as Solti's, let alone Janowski's led by the unsurpassed Lucia Popp. Fink is a rather rough Fafner, not inappropriate perhaps.
Those wanting a modern studio-made set need not hesitate to acquire this one... Those many already owning the Solti, who managed in this work to create real theatre in the Sofiensaal in Vienna, may rest content unless they must have the latest technology.
-- Gramophone [11/1995]
reviewing Decca 443690 Read less
Works on This Recording
Das Rheingold by Richard Wagner
Iidiko Komlósi (Mezzo Soprano),
Gabriele Fontana (Soprano),
Walter Fink (Bass),
Jan-Hendrik Rootering (Bass),
Elena Zaremba (Mezzo Soprano),
Eike Wilm Schulte (Baritone),
Thomas Sunnegardh (Tenor),
Franz Josef Kapellmann (Bass),
Peter Schreier (Tenor),
Kim Begley (Tenor),
Nancy Gustafson (Soprano),
Hanna Schwarz (Mezzo Soprano),
Robert Hale (Bass Baritone),
Margaretha Hintermeier (Alto)
Christoph von Dohnányi
Written: 1854; Germany
Date of Recording: 12/1993
Venue: Severance Hall, Cleveland, Ohio
Length: 147 Minutes 18 Secs.
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