About Das Rheingold and Die Walküre
The Gramophone Choice
"These are enthralling performances. Tomlinson’s volatile Wotan is the most potent reading here. He manages to sing every word with insistent meaning and forceful declamation while maintaining a firm legato. His German is so idiomatic that he might have been speaking the language his whole life and he brings breadth and distinction of phrase to his solos at the close of both operas. Anne Evans has a single, important advantage over other recent Brünnhildes in that her voice is wholly free from wobble and she never makes an ugly sound. Hers is a light, girlish, honest portrayal, sung with unfailing musicality if not with the ultimate insights. Linda Finnie is an articulate, sharp-edged Fricka, and Graham Clark a sparky, incisive Loge. Nadine Secunde’s impassioned Sieglinde is matched by the vital, exciting Siegmund of Poul Elming, and Matthias Hölle as both Hunding and Fasolt is another of those black basses of which Germany seems to have an inexhaustible supply. The whole is magnificently conducted by Barenboim, .... By 1991 he had the full measure of its many facets, bringing immense authority and power to building its huge climaxes, yet finding all the lightness of touch for the mercurial and/or diaphanous aspects of the score. He has the inestimable advantage of a Bayreuth orchestra at the peak of its form.... Similar qualities inform his interpretation of Die Walküre. Barenboim has now learnt how to match the epic stature of Wagner’s mature works, how to pace them with an overview of the whole, and there’s an incandescent, metaphysical feeling of a Furtwänglerian kind in his treatment of such passages as Wotan’s anger and the Valkyrie ride. The orchestra is superb. It’s backed by a recording of startling presence and depth, amply capturing the Bayreuth acoustic."
Review on Amazon for previous CD version (no longer available) of this iconic recording 5.0 out of 5 stars NIBELUNGEN BEST BUY, 4 Feb 2007 This review is from: Wagner - Der Ring des Nibelungen (Audio CD) Here's a staggering bargain. These much-praised Bayreuth performances have been available on Teldec since 1994; now Warner has reissued them in a single box and they're an irresistible value: 1/2 the cost, 1/3 the shelf space, still accompanied by 4 deluxe booklets (containing complete German librettos, William Mann's English translations, essays, interviews, performance photos, and 100+ leitmotifs in the margins), plus there's a bonus DVD with generous excerpts from the Unitel video. Rival sets with comparable amenities (Karajan, Solti, Goodall, Keilberth) sell for 2-3 times as much. Budget-priced competitors (the admirable Janowski set, the more variable traversals of Boehm, Levine, Haitink, and Sawallisch) offer only meager pamphlets with plot summaries [apologies but this latest version from Warner offers most of this online and no longer in the booklets due to high printing costs]. ENGINEERING Unitel filmed this production during off hours at the 1991-92 Bayreuth festivals - the full staging with no audience, performances featuring live-event energy under controlled conditions. The digital stereo is the lushest I've enjoyed on any Ring recording: there's real room sound, immediacy, and three-dimensionality (but a shade more depth and airiness in '91 - compare the timpani figures in the Todesverkundigung and Siegfried's death scene). Stage noises are mostly unobtrusive: occasional faint shufflings, Hunding banging assorted props in Walküre, otherwise comparatively few distractions. CONDUCTOR & ORCHESTRA These CDs furnish some of the most sumptuous instrumental and choral work you'll hear on ANY Wagner recording. Furtwaengler may be one of his deities, but here Barenboim is the master colorist, closer to Karajan, even to Stokowski. At Brünnhilde's awakening the strings are creamy; launching Goetterdämmerung Act 3, the brass have a cushioned radiance. More than any recent competitor, Barenboim is supple and specific from beat to beat, turning up subtleties heard nowhere else. In Rhinegold sc. 2 where the gods grow old: the strings sound numb, drained, and fragile. Or Fasolt's murder: an ugly surprise, the curse motive in the brass icy and vibratoless. Or the woodwind asides throughout Siegfried Act 1: Mozartean in their mischief. Or the fatal turning point at "In kampfe nicht": while Brünnhilde teeters on the edge of the pit, the whole orchestra holds its breath. As for the big showpieces - Rheingold's coda, the Valkyrie ride, the Siegfried Act 3 prelude - they're breathtakingly powerful yet deft and transparent. In short, there's no more illuminating statement of this vast music on disk. CAST The production introduced an all-new, prime-of-life cast, and for continuous listenability Barenboim's lineup outpoints even Janowski's. With his huge, dark, rolling sound, Tomlinson is a stupendous Wotan, every inch the fearsome warlord of myth. Yes, he's a true bass and his high Fs are the end of the line, but he's a consummate theater animal, luxuriant in the "Abendlich strahlt" and Farewell, hypnotic with his big interior monologue, sly and amusing in his Wanderer persona; unquestionably this is a major portrayal. As Bruennhilde, Evans sounds young, sensitive, and technically impeccable - dead-center intonation, effortless slurs in the war cry, consistently lovely tone, and a glowing top that easily rides the orchestra. Her caliber is light for the role, but in the long-lined lyric passages she yields to nobody: "War es so schmählich" and "Ewig war ich" are as poised and poignant as I've heard them. As lead tenor, Jerusalem's adroit musicianship, vivid declamation, and burnished tone are a further pleasure, and he deserves an award for playing his reed-pipe scene in earnest rather than for laughs - Siegfried's loneliness and befuddlement become sincerely touching. True, his voice wearies during the wooing sequence, but he's on form for all of Goetterdämmerung. Also, his Volsung parents are an exceptional pair: Elming's tenor is fresh and gleaming, Secunde has a sultry soprano, and along with Hölle's ferocious Hunding, they do gripping work in Walküre Act 1. Hölle's Fasolt is better natured but just as granitic; in fact the low voices here are close to superb: Kang is insidious as Fafner and Hagen - a fine-grained, well-knit instrument from top to bottom. As for Alberich, von Kannen is positively virtuosic: his sound isn't plush, but it's firm and in charge over both octaves, he sells the text with immense skill, and the curse is white-hot. Only Brinkmann (Gunther) disappoints, a good baritone behaving badly - attractive in his ariosos, pinched and strained when he tries to get dramatic. The rest are competitive. Clark's reedy tenor doesn't keep his Loge and Mime from being flamboyantly entertaining. Bundschuh's dusky timbre suggests a forty-something Gutrune, but she's decent listening. Barenboim's other women are all capable: Meier's Waltraute boasts crisp diction, compact tone, and flawless tuning, Svenden's Erda is similarly alert and appealing, Finnie's a high-energy Fricka with potent top notes. Since these ladies double the bit parts, we also get world-class teams of norns, valkyries, and rhinemaidens. VERDICT In sum, the total achievement here is formidable - unsurpassed engineering, top-drawer singing, exquisite orchestral playing, uniquely evocative conducting [... and lavish libretto booklets - sorry, not in latest reissue]. Verdict: the Ring with the most bang for your buck.