Wagner: Die Walküre - Rattle. © 2020 BRmedia Service GmbH

CD Spotlight

An Impressive Undertaking

Simon Rattle conducts Wagner's 'Die Walküre',

'The singing and the orchestra raise this performance above the ordinary.'


I have listened to and seen several Ring cycles - live performances in Italy, Germany, Austria, France and the United States. I also have some ten full recordings on my bookshelves. Consequently, I am and can be considered as a Ring buff or a Ring addict. One of the most memorable productions I remember is the joint venture by the Aix-en-Provence Festival, the Salzburg Easter Festival and the Berliner Philharmoniker between 2006 and 2009 with a star cast, stage direction by Stéphane Braunschweig and Sir Simon Rattle in the pit. There is a live CD and a live DVD of this production; they have all the merits and the pitfalls of live recordings. Nonetheless, both in the live performances and in the recordings, the listener could sense the symphonic approach by Sir Simon Rattle: ie the Ring cycle read as a long scenic symphony rather than a myth enmeshed in philosophical, historical and political contents.

Almost fifteen years later, this is still the key feature of this new BR Classic recording of Die Walküre as part of a new Ring cycle where Sir Simon Rattle conducts the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks and only Eva Maria Westbroek (as Sieglinde) remains from the original Aix–Salzburg cast. I consider it a mastery conducting without catching fire or delving into the philosophical, political, historical and even religious depth of the myth. This CD set has had mixed reviews in the German specialised musical press, but it deserves a very good rating for its superb engineering and because, as with Simon Rattle, most listeners are interested in the flow of music (as well as in top singing) rather than in the complexities of the myth. Rattle obtains superlative playing from his Bavarian players. The depth of that orchestral sound is mostly in the strings: it's a very string-centred performance. The wash of paint that overwhelms this interpretation of the score is beyond impressionistic, as can be heard in the Prelude to Act I or in 'Nun zäume dein Ross, reisige Maid!' (Act II) or at the very start of 'Wotan's Farewell'.

Listen — Wagner: Nun zäume dein Ross, reisige Maid! (Die Walküre Act II)
(CD2 track 2, 0:00-0:42) © 2020 BRmedia Service GmbH :

Listen — Wagner: Leb' wohl, du kühnes, herrliches Kind! (Die Walküre Act III)
(CD4 track 13, 0:00-0:43) © 2020 BRmedia Service GmbH :

The Prelude to Act I, for example, is simply stunning - quite possibly one of the most exciting on record.

Listen — Wagner: Prelude (Die Walküre Act I)
(CD1 track 1, 0:33-1:08) © 2020 BRmedia Service GmbH :

There are some heavy textures; they may not please everyone. Rattle obtains very different playing from the Bavarian orchestra than he had from the Berliner Philharmoniker. The emphasis is on the orchestra's tonal strengths. Consequently, it may seem that the orchestral and vocal lines are not fully unified. This generates tension, and, in my opinion, is one of the merits of this CD.

The singing and the orchestra raise this performance above the ordinary. James Rutherford's Wotan amply demonstrates that there is no shortage of fine Wagnerian bass-baritones. As with Sir Willard White in the Aix-Salzburg production, he is not a light-voiced Wotan. He is domineering but seems vulnerable - the power behind Rutherford's vocal command perhaps reveals that no matter how towering this figure may be, the King of the Gods is isolated.

Listen — Wagner: Ein andres ist's: achte es wohl (Die Walküre Act II)
(CD2 track 10, 0:00-0:57) © 2020 BRmedia Service GmbH :

The Australian tenor Stuart Skelton also gives a standout performance as Siegmund. The voice is almost ideal for this role - powerful, in full range of the part, and most importantly with the breadth and depth of an excellent legato and a lyric passionate tone.

Listen — Wagner: Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond (Die Walküre Act I)
(CD1 track 16, 0:20-1:16) © 2020 BRmedia Service GmbH :

As his sister-lover, Sieglinde, Eva Maria Westbroek is as involving as she was in the Aix-Salzburg production fifteen years ago when her Siegmund was Robert Gambill. On this CD set, Westbroek and Skelton are able to scale heights of great intensity, and with a balance of heaviness and lightness and underlying sexual tension between them. They match beautifully.

Listen — Wagner: Raste nun hier: gönne dir Ruh'! (Die Walküre Act II)
(CD2 track 14, 0:55-1:49) © 2020 BRmedia Service GmbH :

Iréne Theorin is Brünnhilde; I have heard her in the same role in Italy, both in Naples and in Palermo. She has a good powerful voice, but German critics say her diction leaves something to be desired. Her delicacy is in full swing in the moment when she is Wotan's frail daughter.

Listen — Wagner: Der diese Liebe mir ins Herz gelegt (Die Walküre Act III)
(CD4 track 10, 0:04-1:00) © 2020 BRmedia Service GmbH :

In the first act, Eric Halfvarson's potent instrument as Hunding seems to overwhelm Theorin's Brünnhilde.

Listen — Wagner: Wunder und wilde Märe kündest du, kühner Gast (Die Walküre Act I)
(CD1 track 8, 0:24-0:48) © 2020 BRmedia Service GmbH :

Elisabeth Kulman is a severe and uncompromising Fricka who is a good pair to James Rutherford's Wotan in their second act duet.

Listen — Wagner: Was verlangst du? (Die Walküre Act II)
(CD2 track 6, 0:43-1:17) © 2020 BRmedia Service GmbH :

This CD set is an impressive undertaking for Wagnerians who love listening to a great orchestra at full tilt and a sterling cast with a superb sound.

Copyright © 4 June 2020 Giuseppe Pennisi,
Rome, Italy







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