BBC Music magazine, May 2013
Michael Scott Rohan
Richard Wagner's bicentenary is marked with two outstanding releases:
Valery Gergiev conducts a superb new Valkyries, and Jonas Kaufmann proves his credentials as the greatest living Wagner tenor
Gergiev's Valkyries take flight
Michael Scott Rohan hails a great start to a complete Ring cycle
The Mariinsky's home-grown Ring didn't impress, but with this Walküre they launch a very different cycle, based on quality concert performances featuring a connoisseur's menu of European Wagnerians; only two leads are Russian, and they're German-fluent cosmopolitans. The result, in superb sound, is revelatory.

That committed singer Anja Kampe gives Sieglinde both lyrical beauty and narrative power, well matched by Jonas Kaufmann's Siegmund, a darker clarion recalling Furtwangler's Ludwig Suthaus. Interestingly, rich-voiced Mikhail Petrenko and Ekaterina Gubanova make Hunding and Fricka similarly self-righteous bullies. Rene Pape's initial stabs at Wotan left me dubious, but here, despite occasionally stretching his upper register, he turns out to be the finest I've heard lately, richer-toned and less gruff than German contemporaries and more natural than Bryn Terfel.

Most exciting of all is Nina Stemme's Brünnhilde, larger-voiced and steelier than one might expect, yet feminine, spirited and vulnerable; only her battle-cry seems poorly pitched. Her bright-voiced Valkyrie sisterhood aren't handicapped by odd outbreaks of Russian accent.

The Mariinsky Orchestra plays in vital form, its distinctive brass sound and succulent strings still yielding flashes of raw (just occasionally very raw) power at Valery Gergiev's hand. He himself is rapidly assuming Georg Solti's passionate Wagnerian mantle, with less precision, perhaps, but also fewer extremes; he doesn't over-express the Act I love music, for example, yet rises to Act III with soaring power and momentum.

Unlike Solti, though, he does tend to sag in the wilds of Act II, but makes up for it overall. So far this recalls, and must rank with, the great Rings of the 1960s. More, please.

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