COMPOSERS: Richard Wagner
ALBUM TITLE: Wagner: Das Rheingold
WORKS: Das Rheingold
PERFORMER: René Pape, Alexei Markov, Sergei Semishkur, Stephan Rügamer, Ekaterina Gunabanova, Viktoria Yestrebova, Zlata Bulycheva, Nikolai Putilinm Andrei Popov, Evgeny Nikitin, Mikhail Petrenko, Zhanna Dombrovskaya, Irina Vasilieva, Ekaterina Sergeeva; Mariinsky Orch/Valery Gergiev
CATALOGUE NO: MAR0526
Following his impressive Walküre, Valery Gergiev tackles the Ring’s great prequel, a generally tougher proposition. He draws plenty of vivid drama and glowing colour from the Mariinsky players, particularly their uniquely silken but powerful brass, even if his expansive tempos don’t match Solti’s sheer excitement. The SACD recording is again vivid, though lacking Decca-style atmospheric sound effects – an echoey Erda and decent anvils is your lot.
The cast this time is strongly Russian – albeit mostly cosmopolitan, experienced German performers such as Mikhail Petrenko and Evgeny Nikitin as the rich-voiced pair of giants, a splendid characterisation. Yet even Nikolai Putilin’s incisively powerful, malevolent Alberich frequently pronounces ‘o’ as ‘a’ (as in the Russian ‘khorosho’), singing the word Tode as Tawde. Individually it’s unimportant but collectively it gives the performance a fuzzy, softened accent and some of Wagner’s vocal points feel underplayed.
That said, René Pape’s Wotan, though ideally dark and powerful, also sometimes seems less comfortable. His final, triumphant ‘Was mächtig der Furcht’ sounds muted, as if fighting for breath. Alexei Markov is a powerful but lean-toned Donner, Andrei Popov is an adequate Mime, but Sergei Semishkur as Froh is overwhelmed. On the other hand, the women, particularly the fresh-voiced Rhinemaidens and Ekaterina Gubanova’s sensitive-sounding Fricka, are really impressive. Stephan Rügamer shows how much a truly lyrical Loge can make of his music, without blunting his verbal sting.
My reservations mustn’t be exaggerated and won’t affect everyone. They didn’t prevent me enjoying this enormously, not least in its airy freedom. I look forward to the complete Ring.
Michael Scott Rohan