Wagner: Siegfried / Janowski, Salminen, Urmana, Gould, Elsner

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WAGNER Siegfried Marek Janowski, cond; Stephen Gould (Siegfried); Christian Elsner (Mime); Tomasz Konieczny (Wanderer); Jochen Schmeckenbecher (Alberich); Matti Salminen (Fafner); Violeta Urmana (Brünnhilde); Anna Larsson (Erda); Sophie Klussman (Woodbird); Berlin RSO PENTATONE 5186408 (3 SACDs: 227:30) Live: Philharmonie, Berlin 3/1/2013

This set has much to recommend it. In many ways, it is by far the finest installment of the PentaTone series so far, including the non-Ring items, and as such increases the impression that Janowski’s is a Ring that evolves and improves as it goes along (Rheingold got a lukewarm reception from me in Fanfare 37:2; Walküre was better: see Fanfare 37:3). The sound quality is superb in this Siegfried throughout. Perhaps this is shown best at the very beginning, where the timpani roll is just there, but audible. If, as it continues, this opening is not quite as evocative as Furtwänger at La Scala (who is more primordial), it remains an impressive achievement. The evil undercurrent of that roll seems to be mirrored by the descending bassoon figure. Janowski keeps it moving, and his orchestra is astonishingly well disciplined; yet there is space for lyricism, too. Janowski’s achievement is to provide a terrific sense of momentum, while never rushing.

The cast is strong, although inevitably one always finds oneself pining for perfection. (From this stance, it is easy to see Richard Caniell’s point over at Immortal Performances with his “Dream Ring.”) Christian Elsner’s Mime is wonderfully angry, not a caricature at all (Peter Bronder’s Mime, in Barenboim’s Ring at the BBC Proms this year, was lighter, and clipped and wheedling in the more traditional way). The Wotan/Wanderer here is Tomasz Konieczny, as it has been in the previous two installments. Here he seems to come into his own, a completely different take to that of Hotter yet still big enough of voice and interpretatively sound. Ironically, perhaps, for Head God, Konieczny’s Wotan is one of the most human interpretations on the market today. A darker sound would also have emphasized the differences between Wanderer and Alberich in the second act.

But it is the titular hero that carries the work. Gould has a wonderfully lusty voice (a shame he sounds a tad rushed, by Janowski, in the Forging Song). His exchanges with Mime throughout are expertly managed, and the extended Wanderer/Siegfried part of the final act is enlivened by Gould’s splendidly healthy voice, even at this stage.

Each act fits neatly onto a single disc (Janowski is generally not one to linger). Act II begins with a perfect sense of darkness and foreboding, and both Alberich (Jochen Schmeckenbecher) and Wotan are in top form, especially perhaps Schmeckenbecher in his invoking of Fafner. The grumpy (and excellent) Fafner on this occasion is the experienced Matti Salminen. For the final act, perhaps the “Heil dir, Sonne” is only well done by Urmana rather than radiantly done, but the fault really lies with Janowski, who after excelling so much in this reading does not quite step up to the final moments. Ecstasy is not quite achieved. The final act suffers from a loss of momentum around half way through, which contributes to this.

Despite this, this remains a valuable, involving and rewarding Siegfried that demands to be heard.

FANFARE: Colin Clarke

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: PTC5186408

  • UPC: 827949040863

  • Label: Pentatone

  • Composer: Richard Wagner

  • Conductor: Marek Janowski

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra

  • Performer: Christian Elsner, Jochen Schmeckenbecher, Matti Salminen, Stephen Gould, Tomasz Konieczny, Violeta Urmana