WAGNER Das Rheingold
This is the fifth performance since 2004 you may be able to access of the first Ring opera under Simon Rattle – although the first to be made commercially available. (The previous ones – two with the OAE and two with the Berlin Philharmonic – may be found online or on a private Deutsche Bank release.) It is also by some way the most penetrating and successfully realised. By the clock his reading has become faster, perhaps almost inevitable in concert opera; but, significantly, it is mainly a question of weighting. Rather than luxuriating in the sonorities of the Berliners in this music – sounds that prompted some surprised comparisons with Karajan – the conductor now rediscovers in abundance the rhythmic energy and sheer enjoyment of the orchestration apparent in his reading from those first OAE concerts. This is married to an increased understanding – and use in the playing – of the dark irony, wit and even occasionally tragedy of the drama.
The Bavarians are in tune with the approach (and there’s significantly more colour and character here than in their late-1980s recording for Haitink – EMI, 12/89) and also manage to surf over that slight dip in stamina that any orchestra must feel ‘live’ after descending to Nibelheim for scene 3 with a good half of the opera still to accomplish.
Rattle’s cast (apart from Fasolt) has inevitably changed over the years and tends now to feature strong vocal actors evidently encouraged by their maestro. Michael Volle – who, like Tomasz Konieczny’s Alberich (Rattle’s Wotan this year in Vienna), does a fair amount of swapping between Wagnerian goodies and baddies – nails Wotan’s self-interest and short-sightedness from the beginning. He lacks the last ounce of bass depth to the voice but it’s already a compelling character. Konieczny is now a little too noble to be sheerly frightening in the two curses – and is allowed to laugh too much. Annette Dasch – already an established Elsa and Eva – counts as luxury casting as Freia and is genuinely sensual in her distress, so much more than just a dizzy flapper. Loge’s music is rightfully swift and well taken without mannerism by the experienced Burkhard Ulrich. Both he and the giants are given useful musical space to enjoy their texts and conflicting emotions.
The sound from Munich’s Herkulessaal is crystal clear, the balance of the voices almost ideal. Rattle and the orchestra’s percussionists make sure that we never feel cheated of special sound effects, concert or not. Hugely recommended – and would make a good modern companion to the historic 1950s Bayreuth broadcasts under Krauss (Pristine, 6/04R) and Keilberth (Testament, 1/07). The Thielemann performances from Bayreuth (Opus Arte, 1/10) and Vienna (DG) are finely conducted but their casts are not so well attuned as this one.