Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Wagner in the Middle

This is a recording where the whole is somehow not as great as the sum of its parts. The orchestral playing is impressive. Listen to the great mythic drone of the Prelude; it shows first class playing, but also careful control by conductor Jaap van Zweden, especially considering this is a live performance (or rather the best bits of two performances). The singing is also very good, and at times outstanding. Matthias Goerne is excellent as Wotan, providing glimpses of the complex character the ruler of the gods will become in the next three operas. I trust he’ll be singing throughout the Naxos Ring as future discs are released. I was impressed by tenor Kim Begley in his performance as Edrisi in the Royal Opera’s recent King Roger, and he sings a very good Loge here.  Some of the other singers are perhaps a bit generic, though I’d have preferred somewhat less bite from Peter Sidhom’s Alberich. That’s a quibble, though. Singing: check. As to sound, this recording shows off Naxos’s technical strengths. In this case it’s Phil Rowlands who’s in charge of both production and engineering. Any classical music producer worth his salt probably has John Culshaw’s Ring Resounding on his bookshelf, or even next to his bed, and any recording of Das Rheingold should have the producer taking extra care. So what’s missing? I think the clue is my use of the word ‘careful’ when talking about van Zweden’s conducting. It’s assured enough, but always in the middle any time there’s a musical decision to be made. Right down the middle, and Wagner’s greatness only comes out on the edge. I hope van Zweden takes more chances in Die Walkure, which is scheduled for recording later this year.

Here's the promotional video from Naxos:

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