Notes and Editorial Reviews
A profoundly satisfying traversal of Wagner's score.
Here's a third set of Wagner music drama within three months on which to lavish praise. Indeed, collectors of the Levine (DG) and/or Haitink Ring cycles will now be in something of a quandary. We still await Levine's Siegfried, while EMI record Götterämmerung only this month. It will be time to make considered, overall assessments when both versions are complete. At Covent Garden, Haitink's most convincing interpretation of the cycle (at the time of writing) has been in this work, and in this recording, made not long after he conducted the piece at the Royal Opera House, his compelling, all-comprehending direction has been carried over successfully into the
studio (or rather Munich's Herkulessaal). He catches the spirited characterization of the early acts and manages their difficult transitions effortlessly. When Wagner raises his game in Act 3, so does his interpreter, the scenes with Erda and on the mountain-top having the kind of inner tautness and incandescence they call for. Above all, Haitink has learnt the art of finding the main pulse of a scene and a whole act, and also of providing the precise Klang so essential in each episode.
Take Act 2, one of my favourites in the whole cycle: the informative session between Alberich and Wotan goes with a nice touch of wit, then the Forest Murmurs—that single moment of unalloyed peace in the whole work—is here given just the right easy, unhurried lyricism (a superb horn call at its close). The mighty Siegfried-Fafner fight has magnificent brio, followed by a subtle reliving of the many motifs as the dragon dies and tells of his fate. The comedy of the Mime/Alberich scene is splendid, if a shade fast for the singers to articulate cleanly. Finally, Siegfried alone sounds suitably isolated before the Woodbird carries him off full of energy and ecstasy to the mountain. All this is conveyed splendidly by the Bavarian Radio Symphony players. Throughout this and the other acts, Haitink doesn't delay, his pacing a shade faster than even Solti's (Decca) or Janowski's (Eurodisc/BMG), yet—with the one exception mentioned—there is no sense of hurry, only the wonderful energy and amazing inspiration that courses through this trail-blazing score. His orchestra play with the firm control they have shown throughout the cycle, the sound leaner than Levine's Metropolitan band, more like Janowski's Dresden orchestra.
Haitink must have been pleased to have such intelligent, well-contrasted antagonists as Jerusalem's Siegfried and Haage's Mime. Jerusalem offers everything one has come to expect of him— free, steady tone, intelligent musicality and a keen understanding of the text, there matching Windgassen (Solti). He misses that extra heft called for in the final scene, but that can be willingly sacrificed when so much else is right. Above all, I admired his sustained line and so many examples of significant and well-executed control of dynamics. He is Bayreuth's current incumbent in this role. Haage was Mime in the Peter Hall cycle there, and one of the most telling in the theatre as he is, again, on disc. No accuracy of note or deformation of line spoils his acutely sung and vivid performance, and he carefully builds the character to the neurotic revelations just before his demise. On disc, at any rate in studio performances, he is matched only by Schreier for Janowski.
Haage is a fair match for Morris's majestic Wanderer in their mutual quiz in Act I. Hereabouts Morris sounds a shade gruff and gritty. However, he finds a warmer form for Acts 2 and 3, although throughout he has a nagging habit of over-emphasizing the main beat in every bar. Rappé is a gravely beautiful and mysterious Erda, but I wasn't sure if I liked the echo-chamber effect given to her voice. High marks, again, for Theo Adam's probing, louring Alberich, a wonder given his advancing years. Casting Dame Kiri Te Kanawa as the Wood bird is a similar ploy to Decca putting Sutherland in the role: in both cases a round, lyrical voice is somewhat unsuited to a part that calls for, well, a more bird-like voice, though Dame Kin i makes an effort to lighten her tone. Marton sings with her customary involvement in the final scene, also with more variety of tone-colour than she sometimes contrives. Her tone as such doesn't give great pleasure, while an appreciable vibrato disturbs "Ewig war ich". The recording catches a satisfactory balance between voices and orchestra, and has a good compromise between space and immediacy. The booklet benefits from the inclusion of William Mann's entertaining translation, but, beware, the indication given for track 11 on the finale disc is in the wrong place in the text.
I have confined my listening this time to the comparable, studio versions on Decca and Eurodisc. For all the many qualities of EMI, it is up against Decca's three aces—Nilsson's incomparably gleaming, glorious, steady Brünnhilde; Hotter's authoritative, intelligent Wanderer; and the special warm quality of the Vienna Philharmonic's string tone in the 1960s. If you listen to the opening of the final scene, "Heil dir, Sonner, you'll hear the VP0 strings as even more persuasive than those of the Bavarian Radio Symphony and you'll surely prefer Nilsson to Marton, who merely sings loudly where Nilsson touches the music with her supreme artistry, showing an ear for its refinement and creating through the voice the impression of the young goddess's re-awakening. Then try the Wanderer's first entry and the start of his colloquy with Mime: Hotter shades his tone and probes into the meaning of Wagner's words, Morris merely sings them. On the other side of the balance, Stolze's overdone and ugly-sounding Mime is no match for Haage's. Strange to say the older recording has just the greater presence. In the case of the Eurodisc, Adam is another Wotan with an ability to shape his phrasing and words. This version also has Schreier as Mime, perhaps the most convincing of all (as I have already suggested), but an over-parted Brünnhilde. Where Siegfried is concerned my comparisons didn't give Jerusalem quite such an advantage as I had expected over Eurodisc's vital and intelligent Kollo, or the immensely experienced and eloquent Windgassen, although Jerusalem certainly has a more pleasing voice than either.
Where EMI scores is in Haitink's conducting; less nervous and better shaped than Solti's, always considering the longer view. Janowski is closer to Haitink, but is a shade on the light side in the more serious passages, and the Eurodisc recording doesn't have the depth of sound of the EMI, which includes some stage effects, not all of them quite convincing. Decca's management of Fafner in his lair is still a winner, as is Böhme's account of the dragon's music. All that said, without these comparisons, I found Haitink's traversal of the score profoundly satisfying.
-- Gramophone [11/1991]
Works on This Recording
Siegfried by Richard Wagner
Peter Haage (Tenor),
James Morris (Bass Baritone),
Eva Martón (Soprano),
Dame Kiri Te Kanawa (Soprano),
Theo Adam (Baritone),
Kurt Rydl (Bass),
Siegfried Jerusalem (Tenor),
Jadwiga Rappé (Alto)
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1871; Germany
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