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Wagner: Siegfried / Haenchen, Et Al

Release Date: 09/18/2007 
Label:  Etcetera Records   Catalog #: 5502   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Richard Wagner
Performer:  Linda WatsonStig Fogh AndersenAnne GjevangNadine Secunde,   ... 
Conductor:  Hartmut Haenchen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Netherlands Opera ChorusNetherlands Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 3 
Recorded in: Multi 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

WAGNER Das Rheingold Hartmut Haenchen, cond; Albert Dohmen ( Wotan ); Werner Van Mechelen ( Alberich ); Chris Merritt ( Loge ); Graham Clark ( Mime ); Frode Olsen ( Fasolt ); Mario Luperi ( Fafner ); Doris Soffel ( Read more class="ARIAL12i">Fricka ); Michaela Kaune ( Freia ); Anne Gjevang ( Erda ); Geert Smits ( Donner ); Martin Homrich ( Froh ); Alexandra Coku ( Woglinde ); Natascha Petrinsky ( Wellgunde ); Elena Zhidkova ( Flosshilde ); Netherlands PO & Op Ch ET’CETERA 5500 (2 Hybrid multichannel SACDs: 146:04) Live: Amsterdam 9/2005

WAGNER Die Walküre Hartmut Haenchen, cond; John Keyes ( Siegmund ); Charlotte Margiono ( Sieglinde ); Kurt Rydl ( Hunding ); Albert Dohmen ( Wotan ); Linda Watson ( Brünnhilde ); Doris Soffel ( Fricka ); Netherlands PO ET’CETERA 5501 (4 Hybrid multichannel SACDs: 218: 45) Live: Amsterdam 9/2005

WAGNER Siegfried Hartmut Haenchen, cond; Stig Andersen ( Siegfried ); Graham Clark ( Mime ); Albert Dohmen ( Wanderer ); Günter von Kannen ( Alberich ); Mario Luperi ( Fafner ); Linda Watson (Brünnhilde); Anne Gjevang ( Erda ); Robin Schlotz ( Woodbird ); Netherlands PO ET’CETERA 5502 (3 Hybrid multichannel SACDs: 222:45) Live: Amsterdam 8-9/2004, 9/2005

WAGNER Götterdämmerung Hartmut Haenchen, cond; Stig Andersen ( Siegfried ); Linda Watson ( Brünnhilde ); Günter von Kannen ( Alberich ); Kurt Rydl ( Hagen ); Robert Bork ( Gunther ); Irmgard Vilsmaier ( Gutrune ); Michaela Schuster ( Waltraute ); Birgitta Svendén ( First Norn ); Michaela Schuster ( Second Norn ); Irmgard Vilsmaier ( Third Norn ); Alexandra Coku ( Woglinde ); Natascha Petrinsky ( Wellgunde ); Elena Zhidkova ( Flosshilde ); Ch of The Netherlands O; Netherlands PO ET’CETERA 5503 (4 Hybrid multichannel SACDs: 244:76) Live: Amsterdam 2/2005, 9/2005

Wagnerians, get out your credit cards; this is a Ring you cannot be without.

I reviewed the DVD account of Hartmut Haenchen’s Ring cycle, directed for The Netherlands Opera by Pierre Audi, in Fanfare issues 30:1, 30:2, and 30:5 and refer you to those write-ups for a sense of the production’s musico-dramatic spirit. (The best reason, perhaps, for actually subscribing to this magazine, rather than purchasing occasional copies at a bookstore—or, heaven forbid, borrowing them from someone else—is access to the Fanfare archives. You could have the four reviews in a matter of seconds.) Those videos date from 1999. The current sets of SACDs were recorded live in 2004 and 2005 and though the casts are different, the spectacular orchestral playing is courtesy of just one ensemble, the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, whereas the 1999 recording split the duties among three groups—the NPO, the Residentie Orchestra, and the Rotterdam PO. By rights, I should be writing a five or six page review here, as these performances have not been covered in Fanfare. But I won’t, because the essence of what makes this Ring so special is the conductor and, especially, the very significant reexamination of the music itself.

Haenchen’s cycle is based on the Neue Richard-Wagner-Gesamtausgabe, but the conductor and his collaborators at The Netherlands Opera went well beyond that, making a serious effort to get at the nature of the first performances, and even at Wagner’s unrealized intentions. Extensive notes taken by the composer’s Bayreuth assistants in 1876—especially Heinrich Porges, but also Felix Mottl, Hermann Levi, and Julius Kniese—were scrutinized to inform these performances. Wagner made changes to pitches, rhythms, and texts at rehearsals and gave copious instructions regarding tempo, inflection, and other interpretative matters. It’s on the issue of tempo that Haenchen’s leadership most immediately registers as something different. In an essay appearing in Rheingold ’s liner notes, Haenchen, who reveals himself to be enormously knowledgeable about Wagner performance history, lays the “blame” for the slow tempos that have become the norm at the feet of the Bayreuth-approved conductors Toscanini and Furtwängler. But evidently, Wagner was having a hard time in this regard even when he was around to supervise at the Festspielhaus. “If you were not all such tedious fellows,” he said in 1876, “ Das Rheingold would be finished within two hours.” An overstatement, perhaps, but Haenchen clearly got the message.

These performances move along with a sense of inevitability and dramatic thrust, yet never feel rushed. Rheingold is edge-of-your-seat theater: I resented the interruption imposed by the single disc change required. A good example of the value of Haenchen’s pacing comes in Götterdämmerung. Even the most devoted Wagnerians can find themselves growing a little impatient when the Waltraute/Brünnhilde scene comes around. We have been sitting for well over an hour by this point and there’s still plenty to go before one can get some coffee and hit the restroom. Haenchen fits this scene into the dramatic arch of the Prologue/act I in a way that makes it feel utterly necessary: we’re hanging on Waltraute’s every word as she expansively recounts the grim scene back at Valhalla to an unmoved Brünnhilde. Likewise, Wotan’s act II monologue in Walküre won’t have you looking at your watch. Siegfried’ s first act is truly a scherzo, relentlessly moving forward.

The casts on these sets are actually an improvement over the not inconsiderable ones from 1999. Albert Dohmen is every bit as authoritative a Wotan/Wanderer as John Bröcheler was for the DVDs. Raging at the Valkyries in Walküre ’s final act, his voice has focus and muscle, though he’s capable of tender singing too, as when saying goodbye to his errant daughter. Linda Watson does an excellent job tracking the transformation of her character from warrior to wife to world redeemer. Stig Andersen, this cycle’s Siegfried, is the biggest improvement over the Opus Arte videos, where Heinz Kruse took on the part. Günther von Kannan is a darkly intelligent Alberich for Siegfried and Götterdämmerung (Werner Van Mechelen serves well in Das Rheingold ) and Graham Clark is simply the best Mime there is these days—maybe ever. The other important roles, and the subsidiary ones, are all covered more than adequately, so that the dramatic points of this realization come through loud and clear.

The sound is quite good. If you can do multichannel, that option is a vast improvement over what we get on the Opus Arte DVDs, a choice of Dolby Digital or DTS. Here, of course, we get high-resolution DSD-mastered sonics in five channels. Voices are beautifully characterized and orchestral textures are transparently defined so we can savor the progress Wagner made in his treatment of the orchestra as the tetralogy progressed. The booklets hold fascinating essays on the musical scholarship involved in creating these performances. No librettos, but this will be no impediment to most collectors.

The obvious “competition” here is the other Ring available on SACD, from the Australian label Melba that documents The State Opera of South Australia’s cycle conducted by Asher Fisch. Without a doubt— pace John Culshaw—these are the two best-sounding Ring s around. Melba’s sonics are more luxuriantly enveloping, with some occasional rear channel effects that Et’Cetera totally eschews. Et’Cetera gets the nod when it comes to the casts, especially with Siegfried , for which Melba’s hero, Gary Rideout, was reportedly a substitute. But Fisch and Haenchen are both superb Wagner conductors and their orchestras have been fabulously well prepared. I’m glad to have both.

Music writers who review a lot of Wagner are at risk for burnout. Let’s face it. Other than the occasional Wesendonck Lieder, Siegfried Idyll, or Rienzi, it’s pretty much the same 10 works over and over again. Over half of my assignments for Fanfare in recent years have been Wagner operas, and I’ve taken the necessary time off from my day job to see the Ring four times during that period. All I can say is that, once I got started with Haenchen’s performances, I couldn’t wait to get home each night to listen to another act. Does Haenchen make the contributions of Knappersbusch, Keilberth, Solti, Böhm, Levine, and Barenboim—not to mention Flagstad, Nilsson, Melchior, Windgassen, Hotter, Kipnis, etc.—superfluous? Of course not. But it makes one wonder if, despite the hundreds of choices for the dramas on disc, perhaps we’re only beginning to fathom the full meaning of Wagner’s mighty Der Ring des Nibelungen.

FANFARE: Andrew Quint
This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players. Read less

Works on This Recording

Siegfried by Richard Wagner
Performer:  Linda Watson (Soprano), Stig Fogh Andersen (Tenor), Anne Gjevang (Alto),
Nadine Secunde (Soprano), Alberto Dohmen (Baritone), Elena Zhidkova (Mezzo Soprano),
Birgitta Svendén (Mezzo Soprano), Michaela Schuster (Mezzo Soprano), Irmgard Vilmaier (Soprano),
Graham Clark (Tenor), Günter von Kannen (Baritone), Robert Bork (Bass),
Kurt Rydl (Bass), Alexandra Coku (Soprano), Natascha Petrinsky (Soprano)
Conductor:  Hartmut Haenchen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Netherlands Opera Chorus,  Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1871; Germany 
Notes: This selection is a stereo recording. 

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