Richard Wagner
Der Ring des Nibelungen — IV. Götterdämmerung

Media Review / Comparison


2013-07-14 — Original posting (on Blogger, posting #100 in the original blog)
2014-11-09 — Re-posting as is (WordPress)
2016-07-12 — Brushed up for better readability

Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883): Der Ring des Nibelungen — IV. Götterdämmerung

Wilhelm Furtwängler, Orchestra Sinfonica della Radio Italiana

Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen, Furtwängler, CD coverRichard Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen

Wilhelm Furtwängler, Orchestra Sinfonica della Radio Italiana
Recorded 1953, live, for radio broadcasting (for the soloists see below)

EMI classics 9 08161 2 (13 CDs, mono); ℗ 1972 / 1990 / © 2011
Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen, Furtwängler, EAN-13 barcode
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Marek Janowski, Staatskapelle Dresden, Staatsopernchor Dresden

Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen, Janowski, CD coverRichard Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen

Marek Janowski, Staatskapelle Dresden, Staatsopernchor Dresden
Recorded 1980 – 1983, Lukaskirche, Dresden (for the soloists see below)

Sony Music / RCA 88691915482 (14 CDs, stereo); ℗ / © 2012
Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen, Janowski, UPC-A barcode
—Find CD(s) on amazon.com—


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This is part 4 of my quick “Ring” review, which started with

Furtwängler

Wilhelm Furtwängler (1886 – 1954) recorded the “Götterdämmerung” on November 20th – 27th, 1953, in Rome, with the Coro della Radio Italiana — this is a live recording for the RAI (only one act was recorded per evening). The soloists were

  • Siegfried: Ludwig Suthaus
  • Brünnhilde: Martha Mödl
  • Hagen: Josef Greindl
  • Gunther: Alfred Poell
  • Gutrune: Sena Jurinac
  • Waltraute: Margarete Klose
  • Alberich: Alois Pernerstorfer
  • 1st Norn: Margarete Klose
  • 2nd Norn: Hilde Rössl-Majdan
  • 3rd Norn: Sena Jurinac
  • Woglinde: Sena Jurinac
  • Wellgunde: Magda Gabory
  • Flosshilde: Hilde Rössl-Majdan

Janowski

Marek Janowski (*1939) recorded the “Götterdämmerung” 1982, in the Lukaskirche in Dresden, with the Staatsopernchor Dresden and the male voices of the Staatsopernchor Leipzig. The soloists were

  • Siegfried: René Kollo
  • Brünnhilde: Jeannine Altmeyer
  • Hagen: Matti Salminen
  • Gunther: Hans-Günter Nöcken
  • Gutrune: Norma Sharp
  • Waltraute: Ortrun Wenkel
  • Alberich: Siegmund Nimsgern
  • 1st Norn: Anne Gjevang
  • 2nd Norn: Daphne Evangelatos
  • 3rd Norn: Ruth Falcon
  • Woglinde: Lucia Popp
  • Wellgunde: Uta Priew
  • Flosshilde: Hanna Schwarz

Quick Comparison:

For general remarks see the preceding postings on Operas from Wagner’s “Der Ring des Nibelungen”

Marek Janowski:

Vorspiel:

  • (Norns): Totally different than Furtwängler’s — not just because the sound is better (obviously more spacious), but also because the recording appears to focus on presenting the singers rather than an opera scene. In my opinion, Furtwängler’s recording is much better at setting up the atmosphere for the action yet to come. Here, the singers are too much in foreground, and with the third Norn (Ruth Falcon) the vibrato is slightly above the limit, and too heavy.
  • (Siegfried / Brünnhilde): I could repeat my comment to the last part of “Siegfried” here. Beautiful music, excellent orchestral accompaniment, and brilliant voices (both René Kollo and Jeannine Altmeyer), but too focused on presenting their voice, with plenty of vibrato, and with the bad habit of approaching exposed notes from below. That’s not entirely convincing for me…
  • Siegfried’s Rhine Journey: This clearly beats Furtwängler’s recording — not primarily because of the direction (though Janowski much more evokes the picture of a glorious journey on the Rhine), but because the sound and even more so the orchestra (especially the wind / brass section) is clearly much better than what Furtwängler had at hand.
  • Rating: 4.20 / 5spacer

Act I:

  • Scene 1: That’s now a strong part in this interpretation. Both Gunther (Hans-Günter Nöcken) as well as Hagen (Matti Salminen) are excellent singers, strong, well-sounding voices, and Janowski and the orchestra are able to maintain the menacing, evil atmosphere in this scene. Gutrune (Norma Sharp) isn’t quite the same class as singer, both in terms of volume and of timbre — but that’s only a minor role in this scene.
  • Scene 2: I’m slightly irritated by somewhat of an excess in vibrato in Siegfried’s (and Gutrune’s) voice in the first part of the scene — but the second part, especially Matti Salminen as Hagen, is really excellent.
  • Scene 3: Not very convincing to me. Waltraute (Ortrun Wenkel) sings with plenty of vibrato and does not have a very large tonal range, Brünnhilde (Jeannine Altmeyer) appears fairly restricted, too: when it comes to the small range where she can push her voice, she only appears to play out f and ff, and it sounds as if she is only singing sotto voce in the lower tonal range where she has limited volume and flexibility anyway.
    Once I realized that, listening to parts of that scene became rather tiring. René Kollo also lacks range and variability for that part of the role (where he needs to act in disguise, as Gunther, in the high baritone range). To indicate the disguise, he is apparently wearing a mask; this does convey the picture — but lacks credibility: Ludwig Suthaus’ interpretation in Furtwängler’s recording is much more impressive and rewarding!
  • Rating: 4.28 / 5spacer

Act II:

  • Vorspiel / Scene 1: Both Hagen (Matti Salminen) and Alberich (Siegmund Nimsgern) are excellent in this intimate conspiracy talk — Nimsgern also must be an excellent actor, and his voice is simply stunning!
  • Scene 2: Gutrune (Norma Sharp) is not really convincing in this short scene.
  • Scene 3: The choir is exhibiting individual voices — which is appropriate, as it is meant to represent a mixed crowd of people. More importantly, though, this interpretation is exposing the humor, the parody in this scheme — both in Hagen’s Matti Salminen and the choir’s acting and singing: excellent! This is also substantially faster than Furtwängler’s interpretation.
  • Scene 4: Ah, this entering/welcome choir “Heil dir, Gunther!” gives me the goose bumps: such excellent male voices, homogeneous, professional, radiant, differentiated. I can barely remember ever hearing a better male choir in my life (a case for extending the rating scale upwards)! The rest of the scene can’t quite compete with that choir, with Siegfried’s (René Kollo‘s) vibrato at the limit, and Brünnhilde’s (Jeannine Altmeyer‘s) restricted handling of dynamics (see above).
  • Scene 5: Once more, Brünnhilde’s (Jeannine Altmeyer‘s) singing is too artful in the articulation, and actually, she is hard to understand (despite the better recording technique!), and again she exposes her limited ability to modulate her voice — it gets boring to hear her sing fff in “her” range all the time (as if loud automatically meant good!), while in the lower range she exposes little more than a talking voice. Hagen (Matti Salminen) on the other hand is an excellent actor, excellent, overall; Gunther (Hans-Günther Nöcken) does not come close to Salminen’s Hagen, both in terms of voice and expressivity.
  • Rating: 4.45 / 5spacer

Act III:

  • Vorspiel / Scene 1: Excellent introduction — naturally better than Furtwängler’s live recording, given these tricky brass parts! The three Rhine daughters (Lucia Popp, Uta Priew, Hanna Schwarz) are excellent singers, but remain three individual voices (with the vibrato often at the limit), sometimes too much “charging” — after all, these are not Valkyries! This last point especially refers to the last section where also Siegfried (René Kollo) appears singing fff all the time — that-s acceptable, though, if one takes this part as the key turning point in the action of the entire opera.
  • Scene 2: If only René Kollo (Siegfried) used less vibrato and more differentiation! Actually, I think Kollo’s best part in this entire opera is his final scene, when he dies: except for a short climax he takes back his voice and uses much less of his slow vibratoMatti Salminen as Hagen is dramatic, an excellent actor — but only a short role here. Finally, Furtwängler’s funeral march may be the better interpretation — but from the orchestra, this is of course far superior.
  • Scene 3: The main shortcoming in this scene for me is Jeannine Altmeyer as Brünnhilde; I don’t need to repeat my criticism here, but still: she appears to beat everybody by sheer volume — but that’s about it. Worse than that, towards the end, when Brünnhilde gets caught in emotions, she can’t really express that, other than by frequently approaching notes from below. And she is still hard to understand, despite the efforts she makes to pronounce ending consonants, etc.; the final orchestral section is done very well by the orchestra — but is much more controlled than Furtwängler’s, maybe too much focused on good sound, clarity, etc.: despite its limitations, the older recording is much more touching here!
  • Rating: 4.39 / 5spacer

Summary:

  • Overall duration: 4h 15′
  • Overall rating: 4.35 / 5 (relative)spacer

Wilhelm Furtwängler:

Vorspiel: 

  • (Norns): I like the way in which Furtwängler can establish a sense of expectation in this initial scene (one tends to forget / ignore the limitations in the sound!); the three Norns are excellent voices, well balanced — especially the first Norn (Margarete Klose)
  • (Siegfried / Brünnhilde): Ludwig Suthaus and Martha Mödl are both once more excellent, both living the scene, not trying to show off! Neirther of thge two may have the ultimate “ping” in their voice — but the volume is certainly sufficient (one should always remember that this was a live recording!), and this scene is the continuation of the emotional ending of “Siegfried”, after all!
  • Siegfried’s Rhine Journey: after gradually cooling down from the preceding farewell scene, Furtwängler selects a relatively calm tempo for this transition piece, which unfortunately exposes some weaknesses / limitations in the wind — especially the brass — section.
  • Rating: 4.56 / 5spacer

Act I:

  • Scene 1: Gunther (Alfred Poell) and Hagen (Josef Greindl) are both excellent singers (the latter though sometimes at the limit with his vibrato), and Sena Jurinac as Gutrune is clearly better than her equivalent in the other recording, up to par with the male roles in this scene. I still prefer Janowski in this scene: this is more of an intimate conspirator scene, and this loses a lot through the recording technique. Sometimes Furtwängler appears to have a hard time to maintain the tension — though of course one would need to judge that in a live audition…
  • Scene 2: A good interpretation — though the recording technique keeps the scene at some distance, limits the ability of the listener to “participate” in the dialogs; the subtleties of the action are hardly perceivable, see also the my comments on scene 1. Especially at the beginning of this scene, the “action falls apart” — but that’s mostly a weakness in Wagner’s libretto and hard to correct in a live recording at that time.
  • Scene 3: Both Brünnhilde (Martha Mödl) and Waltraute (Margarete Klose) have excellent, well-balanced, and relatively natural voices (what a contrast to Janowski’s recording!), covering a wide dynamic and tonal range, and also sounding well in the mezza voce range. Ludwig Suthaus has no problem acting as Gunter, singing in the baritone range — very impressive!
    A little anecdotal note: in the dialog between Brünnhilde and Waltraute, Brünnhilde’s text at one point is “Du zagst vor des Strafenden Zorn?” (Are you afraid of my punisher’s anger?) — Martha Mödl mixes up the words: “Du strafst vor des Zagenden Zorn?” (Are you punishing in front of the hesitant’s anger?): not quite what’s in the libretto, but clearly unintentional — unlike Leo Slezak’s infamous “Winterstrümpfe riechen im Sommer noch” (winter socks are smelling in summer, still) which he claims to have sung in lieu of “Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond” in “Die Walküre” — without the public noticing (just to prove that people don’t listen to the words) …
  • Rating: 4.34 / 5spacer

Act II:

  • Vorspiel / Scene 1: Here’s another example where the limited technique (in a live recording) can’t really convey the intimate conspiracy talk between Alberich (Alois Pernerstorfer) and Hagen (Josef Greindl); in addition, the former has a tendency towards heavy, slow vibrato, especially in p passages (f is OK, likely because the singer has more tension on his diaphragm), and occasionally Alberich’s intonation is not quite clean.
  • Scene 2: Gutrune (Sena Jurinac) tends to use a nervous vibrato.
  • Scene 3: The choir and the brass section in the orchestra are both really forceful. Unfortunately, this interpretation (unlike Janowski’s) lacks all humor and parody — not quite Furtwängler’s thing?
  • Scene 4: As a relatively complex scene with choir and many actors, this once more presents limitations in the recording technique. The choir is big, and in the final notes it is presenting an impressive collection if (Italian) Heldentenors, trained in Italian opera. Overall, however, the choir is not nearly as impressive as the Staatsopernchor Dresden in Janowski’s recording. The rest of the scene is good, but — as stated — suffers from a lack of spatial resolution.
  • Scene 5: Brünnhilde (Martha Mödl) is excellent, dramatic, expressive, can be well understood; her volume must be close to Jeannine Altmeyer’s in Janowski’s recording — but she does not enforce it all the time, retains variability and expression over the entire tonal range, and also her acting is great, also in the final scene. Josef Greindl (Hagen) and Alfred Poell (Gunther) are good as well (without Salminen’s power as actor, though), but don’t quite reach her standard.
  • Rating: 4.35 / 5spacer

Act III:

  • Vorspiel / Scene 1: The introduction suffers a bit from “live effects”, as well as from limitations in the recording technique (though for once it’s not a horn which fails, but a trumpet). The threee Rhine daughters (Sena Jurinac, Magda Gabory, Hilde Rössl-Majdan) are impressive, appear as a group rather than as individuals (like in Janowski’s recording), i.e., the voices are excellent and mix very well — I mostly prefer these over the other recording. I don’t need to point out that Siegfried (Ludwig Suthaus) is excellent once more — without really pushing the volume as much as Kollo does!
  • Scene 2: Very simply put: I prefer Ludwig Suthaus‘ Siegfried over Kollo’s. For me, this is the better voice, less pushed, less forceful, more differentiation — and more heart! Josef Greindl occasionally is at the limit with the vibrato, the sound in general is not the best in this scene, and the orchestra clearly has limitations, particularly in the funeral march — but from the interpretation point-of-view (i.e., Furtwängler’s direction), that march is very touching and impressive.
  • Scene 3: Sena Jurinac as Gutrune isn’t all that great (not bad, though), but Josef Greindl (Hagen) and Alfred Poell (Gunther) are again good — the real highlight, both from the role, as well as for the singer in that interpretation is of course Martha Mödl as Brünnhilde: she may not have quite the volume of Jeannine Altmeyer, but she beats the latter by far, when it comes to emotionality, modulation, breadth of expression — simply superb! Plus, she is supported by Wilhelm Furtwängler who really is in his element here, stirring up the emotions, bringing this opera cycle to a grandiose conclusion (and in this last part I definitely prefer Furtwängler’s interpretation over Janowski’s!).
  • Rating: 4.54 / 5spacer

Summary:

  • Overall duration: 4h 27′
  • Overall rating: 4.44 / 5 (relative)spacer

Conclusions

For this part of the cycle, I actually have a slight preference for Furtwängler’s recording — mainly thanks to Ludwig Suthaus and Martha Mödl, two really big singers!

Janowski‘s recording does have a few highlights, too: mainly Siegmund Nimsgern and Matti Salminen — the latter is an important role, but not the main one.


Overall Rating for “Der Ring des Nibelungen”:

Wilhelm Furtwängler, 1953:

Ratings:

  • Das Rheingold: 4.05 (2h 35″, 48 tracks, 2 CDs)
  • Die Walküre: 3.7 (3h 53′, 72 tracks, 3 CDs)
  • Siegfried: 4.2 (4h 07′, 96 tracks, 4 CDs)
  • Götterdämmerung: 4.4 (4h 26.5′, 94 tracks, 4 CDs)
  • Overall rating: 4.10
  • Overall duration: 15h 02′ (310 tracks, 13 CDs)

Summary — Pros:

According to the liner notes, Furtwängler’s primary focus, likely the main reason for doing a second recording of the “Ring” in Italy (3 years after the 1950 live stage recording from La Scala in Milan) was, to collect a well-balanced, “ideal” set of singers. He also wanted to optimize the conditions for a live recording, by recording only one act per evening, and he wanted to impose some moderate restrictions to the public access (people with a cold were excluded). Very likely, he would have preferred to play with the Berlin Philharmonic or a similar orchestra — but that was probably not an option at the time. The result still has many highlights, such as

Summary — Cons:

There are obvious downsides to this recording, as was to be expected:

  • the sound quality (mono) can’t compete with a modern recording. That’s most obvious with complex scenes with many singers on the scene
  • lack of humor in some scenes (Götterdämmerung)
  • some of the roles appear a bit “flat” compared to their counterparts in Janowski’s recording (Mime, Hagen). Also, some singers aren’t really bad, but are a bit on the heavy side with their vibrato, e.g.:
  • Elsa Cavelti (Fricka)

In the box: 13 CDs, booklet with track listing, recording data, and an article (e/d/f) on the recording, 1 bonus CD with a synopsis (e/d/f) and the libretto (e/d/f) for each of the operas.

Marek Janowski, 1982:

Ratings:

  • Das Rheingold: 4.25 (2h 20′, 42 tracks, 2 CDs)
  • Die Walküre: 4.3 (3h 40.5′, 45 tracks, 4 CDs)
  • Siegfried: 4.1 (3h 52′, 51 tracks, 4 CDs)
  • Götterdämmerung: 4.3 (4h 15′, 54 tracks, 4 CDs)
  • Overall rating: 4.25
  • Overall duration:14h 07′ (192 tracks, 14 CDs)

Summary — Pros:

Compared toFurtwängler’s interpretation,Janowski’s recording has many favorable, even excellent aspects, namely / primarily

Summary — Cons:

Unfortunately, there are some substantial downsides to this recording, too, such as

  • Theo Adam (Wotan, Wanderer) with his terrible “over-vibrato”
  • René Kollo (Siegfried) has a brilliant voice (with borderline vibrato, at times) but cannot compete against Ludwig Suthaus
  • Jeannine Altmeyer (Brünnhilde) has a phenomenal volume in “her” tonal range, but totally lacks variability. It does not really cover the tonal and expressive width that this role requires
  • Ortrun Wenkel (Erda)
  • several other singers in minor roles with a rather heavy vibrato.

In the box: 14 CDs, no booklet, no synopsis, no libretto

Overall Conclusion:

As shown in these four reviews, none of the two recordings is “perfect”. I actually doubt that a perfect recording exists of such a monster undertaking. Luckily, I find that these two recordings are amazingly complementary. The combination of the two recordings — as different as they are in many technical aspects — in my view provides excellent coverage of the entire “Ring” cycle. Listening through these 29 hours of music (at least twice, overall!) was a very interesting experience. It proved invaluable to have two recordings to compare, rather than just one (which is probably why I only ever listened through Furtwängler’s “Das Rheingold” and “Die Walküre” back in the LP days)!

The ratings are all time-weighted, i.e., each track was rated individually, and its rating weighted proportional to the track duration.



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