Gramophone, May 2013
Mike Ashman
Gergiev's new in-concert Ring launches with Die Walküre
This new set, the first of a planned Ring that is being assembled from live concert performances, boasts a promising line-up. Pape sings beautifully — one might add 'of course' —and he is a bass, Wagner's intended voice for the role. But Pape is also rather cautious about taking risks, both with finding appropriate colours for the text and adding just that extra lick of tension (aka 'going for it') which would make his war-father the dramatic equal of, say, Sir John Tomlinson's. The Act 2 monologue is most sensitively managed from a dynamic point of view — by Gergiev too — and is often, rightly, very quiet. But it remains intimately Lieder-like and (too?) beautifully sung even in the great outbursts of bitterness at 'Nimm' mein Segen' and 'Das Ende' — the latter unforgettable from both Hans Hotter and Tomlinson but here just a statement of fact. In Act 3, too, Pape seems obsessed with remaining noble; he never sounds angry with his daughter or bitter at his loss of control.

Stemme has the measure of her role in spades and her strong, pure, just slightly chilled tones (a description, not a criticism) deliver memorably the great curve of Act 3 — fear, defiance, guilt, more defiance to almost flirtation. Act 2 is also precisely given, especially the Todesverkündigung, but she is not best served in the scenes with Wotan by Gergiev's enigmatically laid-back approach. Act 1 goes well from all three participants, Kaufmann making his voice distinctively other (older, darker) than his Lohengrin. Again, though, Gergiev pulls back in the middle of things, here in Kampe's delivery of her life-so-far monologue, which doesn't explode into the entry of spring and the lovers' declarations as it might. Gubanova is a lively, probing Fricka and the Valkyries a well-saddled bunch.

The still decidedly un-Western sound of Gergiev and his orchestra is a dramatic advantage to this opera's tense underlay. The act timings, incidentally, are almost identical to those of Karajan's DG recording. Here their evident command and enjoyment of the piece are slightly compromised, either by their maestro's occasional holding back or the difficulty of maintaining a dramatic line over three very distant recording periods from June 2011 to April 2012. Was much added from outside the concert performances? Sound and balance are excellent. Collectors will relish Stemme and Kaufmann but this first instalment is not a major challenge to old favourites such as Krauss or Barenboim.

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