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Wagner: Die Walküre / Kaufmann, Stemme, Gergiev

Release Date: 02/12/2013 
Label:  Mariinsky   Catalog #: 527   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Richard Wagner
Performer:  René PapeJonas KaufmannAnja KampeEkaterina Gubanova,   ... 
Conductor:  Valery Gergiev
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Petersburg Mariinsky Theater Orchestra
Number of Discs: 4 
Recorded in: Multi 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.
WAGNER Die Walküre Valery Gergiev, cond; Jonas Kaufmann ( Siegmund ); Anja Kampe ( Sieglinde ); Mikhail Petrenko ( Hunding ); René Pape ( Wotan Read more class="ARIAL12">); Nina Stemme ( Brünnhilde ); Ekaterina Gubanova ( Fricka ); soloists; Mariinsky O MARIINSKY 0527 (4 SACDs: 236:16 Text and Translation)

This superbly cast, conducted, and recorded Die Walküre, derived from multiple dates in 2011 and 2012, is the first installment of a Ring cycle from Valery Gergiev. Das Rheingold will be issued by the end of the year, with Siegfried and Götterdämmerung to follow in 2014. Wagnerians, budget accordingly because this Ring will most certainly be an essential acquisition.

The utter necessity of ownership can be explained in two words: René Pape. Anyone who encountered Pape’s performances of Marke and Gurnemanz in the late 1990s and marveled at the vocal majesty and “gravitas” that that German bass manifested when he was in his mid-30s surely looked ahead to the time when he would inevitably get to Wotan. It is not a stretch to conclude that Pape’s realization of the part is the finest on a commercial recording of the stereo era—and that includes the iconic Solti/Decca cycle where the great Hans Hotter, most would agree, was past his prime. Both halves of Pape’s vocal range satisfy immensely: The lower reaches with a capacious resonance and tactile burr, the upper octave with an unstrained, appealingly colored lyricism. His meticulously inflected Second Act monolog seems conversational rather than expositional (and really lets us know what makes the Battle Father tick.) “Leb wohl” is emotionally charged but not cloying, and the singer never resorts to crooning. Pape’s instrument is so commanding that sputtering rage isn’t required to get across how pissed off he is when confronting Brünnhilde in act III. This singer’s Wotan seems to have his emotions more under control than many worthy competitors, so his quick acquiescence to the Valkyrie’s request for a more lenient sentence seems more believable. Another benefit of featuring “The Black Diamond Bass” is that other imposing low male voices can be included without a risk of overshadowing Wotan at his most powerful. So, Mikhail Petrenko sounds formidably malevolent as Hunding but he’s still merely human. One looks forward to the Alberich-Wotan/Wanderer scenes of Rheingold and Siegfried with great anticipation.

There are, of course, at least two other Wagnerian heavy hitters in the cast. Jonas Kaufmann’s Siegmund is certainly a known quantity, if only because a couple of hundred thousand people saw his performance in Robert Lepage’s Metropolitan Opera production in movie theaters around the world (it’s also now available on video.) Kaufmann’s smoky, well-supported Heldentenor is put in the service of a passionate representation of his character. Nina Stemme has been singing Isolde for a decade and more recently added Brünnhilde to her repertoire mix. Stemme once told an interviewer as her Wagnerian star was rising: “My heart is still with Puccini and Verdi but my voice is with Wagner and Strauss.” Indeed, Stemme delivers the full range of the Valkyrie’s personality—the confident power of the imperious warrior/daughter as well as a warmly human side, as she interacts with the doomed Siegmund in act II. As noted above, Petrenko’s commodious bass-baritone makes him a dangerous-sounding Hunding. Anja Kampe has performed most of the major Wagner soprano roles (including Sieglinde opposite Plácido Domingo in Washington) and the final quarter hour of act I with Kaufmann is infused with a Tristanesque yearning, not just raging hormones. Ekaterina Gubanova also possesses a voice well suited to her role: Her Fricka can seem insistent and borderline shrill, but it’s not unsympathetic.

Gergiev’s part in assuring the success of this Walküre can’t be minimized. He takes his time at the outset of act I, as Siegmund and Sieglinde are figuring out who the other is, but the conductor always knows where he’s going: His total timing for act I is shorter than most, especially live performances. Gergiev lavishes great care on intervening orchestral passages so they are, as Wagner intended, extensions of the words and thoughts of the singers. With the music leading up to Hunding’s arrival in act I, we can feel his evil presence before the brute actually says anything. All the glaring and body language you’d get in a staged performance comes through your speakers, thanks to careful shading of dynamics and color by both singers and orchestra. The “Alex Ross passage” after Fricka’s final words to Wotan in act II (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, track down Ross’s column in the April 11, 2011, issue of The New Yorker ) indeed represents—Ross’s words—“a solitary spasm of regret.” The Walkürenritt’s dotted rhythm gets a little sing-songy and occasionally, it sounds like a line intended for one Valkyrie is given to several. I’m not losing any sleep over it.

Mariinsky’s multichannel sound is conservatively executed, but singers and instruments have a gratifyingly dimensional quality and vocal/orchestral balances are excellent. Voices are richly characterized—Pape in all his glory—as is the augmented brass section. There’s a libretto in German and English plus a plot synopsis and essay in Russian, English, French, and German. This is a Walküre for connoisseurs: a vitally engaged conductor leading singers with voices that are ideal for their parts and who understand their characters from extensive onstage experience but aren’t burdened with costumes, makeup, or weird directorial conceits. This is going to be one hell of a Ring.

FANFARE: Andrew Quint
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Works on This Recording

Die Walküre by Richard Wagner
Performer:  René Pape (Bass), Jonas Kaufmann (Tenor), Anja Kampe (Soprano),
Ekaterina Gubanova (Mezzo Soprano), Nina Stemme (Soprano), Mikhail Petrenko (Bass)
Conductor:  Valery Gergiev
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Petersburg Mariinsky Theater Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1856; Germany 

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