Marek Janowski: Die Walküre, Wagner
Die Walküre, composed immediately after Das Rheingold, shows Wagner writing something unlike anything that had been written before. It is his most tender, wide-ranging and tragic work. There are probably more recordings of it than any of his other dramas, and many of them are very fine. Judged by suitably exalted standards, this new recording in Marek Janowski’s complete series doesn’t rank as highly as I’d hoped.
The Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra is magnificent and superbly recorded. But Janowski’s conducting is almost always brisk and sometimes, as at the beginning of Wotan’s Farewell, downright vulgar. He seems more keen on momentary excitement than on longterm emotion. Act I is most successful, though tenor Robert Dean Smith is, as always, reliable yet uninspired. Siegmund’s twin sister, Sieglinde, is taken by soprano Melanie Diener, the strongest of the cast.
Unfortunately Act II shows a marked decline: Brünnhilde is sung by Petra Lang, until recently an excellent mezzo, but unwisely now taking on the most demanding of heroic soprano roles. Her lower register remains intact, though she doesn’t use her voice as intelligently as she used to, while her higher notes are consistently strained, often wobbly. But Thomas Konieczny is the major blot on this landscape: his Wotan sounds gritty, as if it is being sung through clenched teeth, and he fails to impart warmth to his scenes with Brünnhilde. Sad after the high standard of other items in this series.