Michael Volle: "Wagner"
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Michael Volle: "Wagner"

CD Button Rundfunk-Sinfonie Orchester Berlin, Fritzsch. No texts or translations. Orfeo C 904 171 A

Recordings Volle Wagner Cover 418
Critics Choice Button 1015 

MICHAEL VOLLE is an intelligent artist. Three of his most successful roles—Dr. Schön in Lulu and both Sachs and Beckmesser in Die Miestersinger—are among the most demanding in the standard repertoire. But his Bach program, recorded with period instruments, proves an honorable misfire. Much of the time in the three cantatas on offer he gives an uneasy, careful performance rather than sing with his full voice, and he sometimes almost seems to be marking. This can be intermittently sweet and touching, as in the second aria of Cantata 82, but it is a byproduct of the vocalism rather than his intention. Volle is most comfortable in the accompanied recitative of Cantata 56, in which he can manage his voice more helpfully than in arias, but ultimately the listener becomes more interested in the way Bach found new forms for each cantata than in the performances themselves. Cantata 158, for example, is really just a big bass aria with treble interjections (oddly, sung here by a mature female soprano rather than a boy) enclosed in two recitatives. The concluding chorale is beautifully shaped by conductor Raphael Alpermann.

Clearly, the music world wants Volle to sing Wagner anyway—he will be the next Wotan/Wanderer at the Met, where he has already sung Sachs and the Dutchman—and it’s in this material that he is especially admirable. (In our day of specialized repertoire, the idea that a bass can sing both Bach and Wagner might seem like a stunt. But things were not always this way; Hans Hotter would have found such a narrow view silly.) In the Siegfried excerpt—the Wanderer’s last big solo from his Act III scene with Erda—Volle is in fresh, clear voice, with the top notes free, yet he still manages to show the forgiveness and the reconciliation with his own story that the old man needs at the last stage of his life. The final scene of Die Walküre doesn’t seem difficult at all for Volle, although the softest singing is not truly grounded. But he does have a convincingly intimate sound for Sachs’s Act II monologue. Amfortas’s Act I solo is similarly well sung, in a suitably human portrayal of the humbled knight. Wolfram is now surely behind Volle (he’s fifty-seven), but in the Act II competition piece he shows a youthful quality by lightening his voice just to the point that he still has control. The final solo from Mesitersinger is a treat, because Volle has not already been performing for five hours, as he would have in the theater.

In the fifty-two-page booklet for the Bach recording, there was somehow not room for texts and translations. These are not provided for the Wagner, either, but a close-up recorded balance on the voice keeps Volle’s words clear in a way they could never be in the theater. The orchestral interpretations under Georg Fritzsch are suitably varied and interesting. Fritzsch’s Holländer shows Wagner’s debt to Weber. The finale of Meistersinger is mostly lithe, almost offhand, so that the warning about corruption is all the more chilling, and Sachs’s Flieder monologue has a real sense of the ineffable, unlike anything else in Wagner.  —William R. Braun 

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