Jaap van Zweden conducts Wagner’s Die Walküre

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Wagner
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Wagner
WORKS: Die Walküre
PERFORMER: Matthias Goerne, Michelle DeYoung, Stuart Skelton, Heidi Melton, Petra Lang, Falk Struckmann; Hong Kong Philharmonic Orch/Jaap van Zweden
CATALOGUE NO: 8.660394-97

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Naxos’s recent Rheingold featured exceptional cast and recording. I was less impressed with Jaap van Zweden’s conducting, a decent first stab but lacking detail, and Matthias Goerne’s surprisingly stolid Wotan. Not so this Walküre.

Like many conductors, Van Zweden seems to respond more naturally to this richer, more passionate score, better suited to his sweeping approach. Drawing airy, luminescent textures from the Hong Kong players, he drives the drama excitingly – missing telling nuances, still, but avoiding Pierre Boulez’s glibness and the lumpen Teutonicism currently reigning at Bayreuth.

His singers respond superbly, although they’re rather close-miked; Matthias Goerne consistently seems to be singing right in your face, but he brings Wotan’s fearful conflicts of love and desperation alive with a beautifully mellow bass tone rare in the role these days. As in Marek Janowski’s Pentatone cycle, Petra Lang isn’t the most natural Brünnhilde, but her high notes soar with cutting power; unusually for an ex-mezzo, it’s her lower range which can curdle slightly. It’s a fine, moving performance nevertheless. Skelton and Melton are well established Volsungs, but both their voices seem to have taken on fresh lustre and clarion ring, giving memorably intense performances. The top-drawer Valkyries include British Brünnhildes Katherine Broderick and Elaine McKrill, Hunding is gruff veteran Wotan Falk Struckmann, and Michelle de Young an imposing Fricka.

Among bargain recordings this is outstanding, an ideal starting point for newcomers, and it’s competitive even among full-price versions. The Blu-ray (it’s cheaper!) should sound superb, outclassed only by Solti’s complete cycle. Siegfried, please?

Michael Scott Rohan

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Listen to an except of this recording here.