WORKS: Der Ring des Nibelungen (excerpts)
PERFORMER: Eva Marton, Siegfried Jerusalem, James Morris, Cheryl Studer, Reiner Goldberg
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 7 54633 2 DDD
Anyone considering laying out on a set of compact discs of Wagner’s Ring has a wider range of choice in all price categories than ever before. Two rival full-price sets, both with superbly recorded sound, have now been issued by EMI (Bernard Haitink) and Deutsche Grammophon (James Levine). DG’s set was completed earlier in the year with Siegfried. EMI close the circle of theirs with this issue of Götterdämmerung.
The playing and much of the singing on Levine’s Met set are sumptuous, but for all his meticulousness in pointing up detail in the score, I miss the sense of a compelling drama unfolding. Haitink and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra lack the glossy sheen of Levine’s Metropolitan forces, but capture better the work’s rugged, primeval quality.
Eva Marton’s Brünnhilde, trenchant and squally when under pressure, will not appeal to all tastes, and it is true that she does not have the vibrant presence of Hildegard Behrens on DG. But her performance certainly doesn’t disqualify the set from overall recommendation, and Siegfried Jerusalem is infinitely more attractive than DG’s Siegfried, Reiner Goldberg. John Tomlinson is a formidably shaggy-voiced Hagen. Listen out, too, for the surprise appearance of that versatile artist Thomas Hampson, who finds exactly the right dark, Germanic timbre for Gunther.
Reginald Goodall’s magnificently spacious English-language Ring is also now available on CD (mid-price), as is Furtwängler’s incandescent La Scala recording of 1950 and the more majestic one made from an RAI broadcast in 1953 (both fall into the budget category).
The disc of highlights from the Haitink Ring, which commendably includes several extended extracts from each opera, provides an ideal sampler for those who haven’t the means, shelf-space or stamina for the whole cycle.Barry Millington