Wagner: Die Walküre review I Andrew Clements's classical album of the week

Skelton/Westbroek/Rutherford/Theorin/Bavarian RSO/Rattle
(BR Klassik, four CDs)
This is Wagner of scattered highlights, but the quality of the Bavarian RSO’s playing distracts from some underwhelming singing

Over the last 15 years, Simon Rattle has conducted stagings of Wagner’s Ring several times – in Aix-en-Provence, Salzburg, and Vienna – and though at least one of those cycles has been released on DVD, it’s a series of live performances with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra that forms the basis of his first cycle released as a recording. It began in 2015 with a well-received Rheingold, while this Walküre is based on performances in Munich at the beginning of last year.

Bavarian RSO/Rattle: Wagner: Die Walküre album art work
Bavarian RSO/Rattle: Wagner: Die Walküre album art work Photograph: Publicity image

The common denominator between the casts of the two sets is the excellent Elisabeth Kulman as Fricka, while Eric Halfvarson, Fafner in the previous instalment, is a rather gruff Hunding here. Most crucially, there’s a different Wotan this time: where Rheingold had Michael Volle in the role, here it’s James Rutherford, a lighter, more baritonal voice than Volle, and one who’s at his best in his second-act exchanges with Fricka, but lacks real weight and warmth in the final-scene farewell. Alongside Kulman, the best singing comes from Stuart Skelton as an ardent Siegmund, but Eva Maria Westbroek’s Sieglinde is troublingly tremulous, while Iréne Theorin’s Brünnhilde is never quite the dominating Valkyrie she really ought to be.

The opening moments of the first act prelude are enough to confirm the excellence of the Bavarian orchestra’s playing. Time and again it’s the sheer quality of their instrumental contributions that diverts attention from indifferent singing, and Rattle’s shaping of the score, which tends to parcel each scene up into easily digested morsels, only reinforces that impression; this is a Walküre of scattered highlights rather than gradually accumulating dramatic power.

This week’s other pick

Detlev Glanert’s list of operas now stretches into double figures. The latest of them is Oceane, based upon Oceane von Parceval, a novel fragment by Theodor Fontane. It was premiered at the Deutsche Oper, Berlin, a year ago, and an impressive recording from those performances, conducted by Donald Runnicles with Maria Bengtsson in the title role, has been released on Oehms Classics.

Hans-Ulrich Treichel’s libretto completes what Fontane left unfinished; it tells of the arrival of the mysterious, apparently rootless Oceane in a quiet seaside resort on the Baltic coast, and her effect on the community there. If the central character seems to combine elements of Dvořák’s Rusalka, Debussy’s Mélisande and even Berg’s Lulu, then Glanert’s score is rooted in the post-Romantic German tradition leading back through his teacher Hans Werner Henze to Berg and Richard Strauss. Dramatically and musically, it’s all wonderfully assured and convincing.


Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

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