Customer Reviews for: Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen / Varnay, Hotter, Windgassen, Krauss

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 Good, but not up to the hype January 25, 2013
By William Craig (BROOMFIELD, CO) -- See All My Reviews
Many critics consider this the greatest recorded performance of The Ring, but I wouldn’t go that far. It certainly has many fine things in it, but it also has problems. Most of these are simply live-performance glitches; with music this complex, we must expect wrong notes, wrong words, and missed entrances, and these are mostly minor distractions. But there are also some larger glitches which are more distressing. Clemens Krauss is not well-known today; if remembered at all, it is as the librettist for Strauss’ Capriccio. Judging by this performance, he was a great Wagner conductor. Like other conductors of his generation, notably Furtwänlger and Knappertsbusch, his performance was based on a profound understanding of the large musical structure. But where Furtwängler’s Ring featured a dark, measured, epic quality, Krauss emphasized passion and human emotion, and he did it very convincingly. The orchestral playing is excellent; these were the days when Bayreuth attracted the best players. The sound is very good for its time, with clarity and a reasonable dynamic range. The singers are almost always well in focus, though the orchestral balances often vary disconcertingly. Das Rheingold is generally excellent. Hearing Wotan from Hotter in his prime is a treat, especially since he never recorded Rheingold commercially. Neidlinger’s Alberich is a classic performance, familiar from other recordings. The Rhinemaidens are an appealing lot, rivaling Janowski’s excellent trio. Also notable are Witte’s brilliant Loge, Uhde’s powerful Donner, and Ilosvay’s majestic Erda. My only quibble is Weber’s thuggish Fasolt - he’s supposed to be the rational giant. Act I of Die Walküre is thrilling. Krauss’ sweeping continuity from beginning to end recalls Bruno Walter’s classic 1935 recording. Resnik and Vinay are very passionate lovers, and Greindl is a dark, menacing Hunding. Act II also goes well, with all the singers in top form. Varnay is a wonderful Brünnhilde; she has power throughout her range, and she sings with passion, sensitivity, and fine textual understanding. She and Vinay make the “Todesverkündigung” scene something special. Hotter and Krauss pace Wotan’s monologue so well that it scarcely seems long. Act III, though, is problematic. Varnay continues her fine portrayal, singing and acting especially well in Scene III, her long colloquy with Wotan. Unfortunately, Hotter sounds very fatigued by this point; he does some fine soft singing, but the declamatory passages are very precarious. The first two scenes suffer from Krauss’ tempos. The Ride of the Valkyries goes at an amazing clip, but unlike Leinsdorf, who starts at a similar speed but slows down when the singers enter, Krauss maintains the tempo, and the singers often have to scramble to keep up. Much of the second scene with Wotan also goes very fast. I would prefer to hear time allowed for words and nuances. Act I of Siegfried is another problem area. Hotter’s strong, secure Wanderer is a pleasure to hear. The riddle scene is paced beautifully, and Hotter sounds happier with Krauss’ flowing tempos than with Solti’s slower, heavier approach. As Siegfried, it is good to hear Windgassen in his youthful prime. The voice is clear and brilliant, and he already shows much of the intelligence and sensitivity of his later work. Unfortunately, his well-known tendency to run ahead of the beat repeatedly gets him in trouble, particularly in the forging scene, where he and the orchestra are often not even approximately together. Kuen’s Mime is a convincing characterization, but a musical disaster. He performs much of the role in a sort of sprechstimme, and when he actually sings his pitches are often wildly inaccurate. With Windgassen’s rhythmic vagaries and Kuen’s all-over-the-place pitches, the latter part of the forging scene approaches chaos. Act II goes better. Windgassen is more attuned to the beat throughout, and he does some very expressive singing in the “forest murmurs” scene. Kuen remains a musical liability, though in the Mime/Alberich scene Krauss’ tempo has both him and Neidlinger scrambling for the notes. The Wanderer/Alberich scene is a classic meeting of two great singers, Streich is a charming bird, and Greindl (greatly amplified) a formidable dragon. Act III is wonderful. Hotter goes out in grand style, with more fine work from Ilosvay as Erda. Varnay’s Brünnhilde continues excellent, and Windgassen somewhere finds the stamina to keep up with her. The last third of the love scene is electrifying. Krauss makes an excellent tempo choice for the ending; it’s not as majestic as Furtwängler or Goodall, but neither is it the mad dash to the finish of Solti, Janowski, or Levine. The singers have time to express themselves, and they do so with real exultation. Götterdämmerung is splendid throughout. In Act I the Norns are finely ominous, Varnay and Windgassen take up where they left off in Siegfried, Uhde is a strong, intelligent Gunther, Greindl a black-voiced, finely detailed, and tireless Hagen, and Malaniuk a well-sung, expressive Waltraute. As Gutrune, Hinsch-Gröndahl is not as bad as reviews had led me to expect, but her unwieldy voice seems all wrong for the role. Act II, one of Wagner’s most taut and powerful dramatic structures, is put together very well. The Alberich/Hagen scene is wonderfully sinister, and the chorus acquits itself well. Act III is almost as good. The Rhinemaidens are again excellent. Windgassen has big problems with his narration, showing insecurity in both rhythm and memory; but he sings a very affecting death scene. And from here on the music sweeps inexorably to the end, capped by Varnay’s magnificent Immolation. So, scarcely a perfect Ring, but perfection is probably an unachievable goal. I’d certainly recommend this as a supplement to other fine recordings, and it’s hard to resist at the price. This edition has the advantage of including librettos, which the one I bought a couple of years ago did not.(My collection also includes the Futrwängler/Radio Italiana, the Solti, the Goodall/ENO, the Janowski, and the Levine/Met video, the 1990 production, not the new one.) Report Abuse

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