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Lang, Haller, Prudenskaya; Ryan, Brück, Schmeckenbecher, Salminen; Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester and Rundfunkchor Berlin, Janowski. Text and translation. PentaTone PTC 5186 (4)
The end of a long and often rewarding project, this Götterdämmerung represents the completion of Marek Janowski's ten-opera Wagner survey, and of his second digital Ring recording as well. Janowski, frustrated with conceptual, non-representational stage productions, has given us audio-only moments, such as the return of a gasping, fettered Alberich from claustrophobic Nibelheim back to the earth's surface in Das Rheingold, or the first dangerous scent of Hunding's return home in Act I of Die Walküre, that are as graphic as anything that could ever be seen with the eyes. There are elements of that in his Götterdämmerung as well, particularly in the music underneath Hagen's description of Siegfried's powerful oar strokes, in the many different manifestations of Loge's fire (from barely-smoldering flickers to terrifying, angry flames), and in the uncanny orchestral word-painting at Siegfried's arrival in Act II.
But the glory of Janowski's Wagner has often been in the longer spans, and here they are handled in such a way as to make this enormous opera seem almost economical. In Act I the scene of the Norns is not deadly and portentous; instead, the opera starts as if it were already in motion and we had come upon a scene of timeless activity. This gradually settles into the "real" world of Siegfried and the now-mortal Brünnhilde, who in Janowski's colorings are not addressing each other in heavy triumphalism but in the renewed vigor of a fresh day. The Rhine Journey may be a little fast, but Siegfried of course is young and on a mission. Janowski then brings a real chill to the stopped horn note that signals the arrival at the dicey, inbred world of the Gibichungs. Hagen's Watch keeps the flow of the Rhine, which breaks down in the unexpected twist of Waltraute's scene. Act III makes a similar single span, with Janowski's fanciful, fairy-tale phrasing for the Rhinemaidens turning mundane and earthbound for Gunther's hunting party. Siegfried's death scene in Janowski's version gives us a hero who is not merely caught up in memories but already transported to another deathly space entirely. The act seems to splinter apart afterward, but it turns out that Janowski has pulled back before a final surge of renewed energy for Brünnhilde's immolation, the decisive moment of action in the drama.
That scene is well sustained by Petra Lang's Brünnhilde, who makes her address to Wotan a literal plea. Her voice has a pronounced mezzo timbre, and the tone and the diction can be cloudy, but she gives a brave, persuasive performance with a real center to both the character and the vocalism. Matti Salminen's advanced age shows in his artistry and also in his patchy tone; too many words are spoken in his Hagen. Jochen Schmeckenbecher's Alberich, very much based on the sound of the words, is up to his high standard from his two preceding Ring operas, and Marina Prudenskaya makes a detailed, bold Waltraute, singing in long, supported phrases. She begins her scene as if the events she narrates had just happened, and as if she had no doubt that Brünnhilde will capitulate. Lance Ryan's Siegfried is more of a Mime in his unappealing tone, and Edith Haller is a careful, dull Gutrune.
The men of the Rundfunkchor cover themselves in glory, as they did in Janowski's Lohengrin. The orchestral players are attuned to the drama, with the trumpet-playing notable for subtlety, the eight horns not only virtuoso but suitably aquatic in color, and the two clarinets not only phrasing but breathing in perfect duet. Janowski's Tristan and his Siegfried are now the top recommendations for those operas on CD, and the rest of his Ring ranks almost as high.
WILLIAM R. BRAUN
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