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.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

A special Ring Cycle continues

Following a well-received Das Rheingold release last year, we now have the second release in the live concert recordings of the Ring Cycle from Hong Kong, with Jaap van Zweden. The new Die Walkure, to be released November 11, 2016, features some really special singers and outstanding playing by the Hong Kong Philharmonic. This is a concert presentation of the opera, with only gestures and facial expressions available to the singers in the way of acting, so the focus is definitely on the music. Nevertheless the expressive abilities of Michelle DeYoung as Fricka, Heidi Melton as Sieglinde, Petra Lang as Brunnhilde, Stuart Skelton as Siegmund and Matthias Goerne as Wotan come through. With one's headphones on and eyes closed, this is much more than a string of concert arias, but a compelling dramatic experience. Much of the credit for that goes, of course, to van Zweden, whose grasp of the theatrical and musical arcs of this great work is confident and sure.

For me the most affecting relationship in all of Wagner is between Wotan and his disobedient daughter Brunnhilde. Matthias Goerne sang a stand-out Wotan in Das Rheingold, and he's even better here. He's matched with Petra Lang, whose first recorded Brunnhilde was in the Pentatone recording of Marek Janowski and the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester, from 2012. Lang had carefully managed her voice during her career, making the transition from mezzo to soprano while turning down big roles that might damage her voice. When she was ready for the role, this recording revealed a star. I've just finished listening to Act III, and was so impressed with her performance. Here's a chunk of a great review of the Pentatone recording by Jim Pritchard, from 2013:
This CD is an important document as it reproduced Petra Lang’s memorable first complete Brünnhilde, a role she is currently singing on stage for the first time in Geneva. The soprano - as we should perhaps start calling her rather than mezzo - has previously sung Valkyries, Fricka and Sieglinde in this opera. Here she adds the Die Walküre Brünnhilde to her repertoire - with the others in the Ring to follow in coming years. Lang’s voice is distinctive and virtually unique in the current generation for the extraordinary vocal range that she can offer to the great soprano and mezzo-soprano roles in Wagner operas. Here she goes from the vibrancy of her top notes and the Act II ‘Hojotohos’ that might possibly have been equalled but rarely bettered on CD, to the contralto-like intonations of the 'annunciation of death' scene that hold no fears for her. She undertakes this great journey employing all the tricks of her consummate vocal technique almost with ease. In Berlin it was only the first time Lang had sung this role in its entirety and she was already a very good Brünnhilde. It could only get even better … and it has. In her recent Geneva performance in this opera she was an even more credible pouty teenager who matured into a woman totally in control of her fate at the end. 
As Pritchard says, "it could only get even better", and once again it has. Lang and Goerne are heart-breaking as a daughter and father locked in a struggle both must lose. Unfortunately, there are no scenes with Brunnhilde and Wotan together among the video clips Naxos has posted on YouTube, but here is the most sorrowful and beautiful "Der Augen leuchtendes Paar" ("Those bright shining eyes") in which the grieving father says farewell to his favourite daughter.

So now we wait for Siegfried, which I expect will come along at some point in 2017. I look forward to that, and of course to a Gotterdammerung which will end van Zweden's pre-New York Philharmonic period. In the meantime, I know what you all really want is to watch this:

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