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new-classics.co.uk, October 2014

Christian Thielemann conducts the Bayreuth Festival Chorus and Orchestra superbly… © 2014 new-classics.co.uk Read complete review




Andrew Quint
Fanfare, November 2010

Tankred Dorst’s Bayreuth Ring production, introduced in 2006, has been consistently panned but Christian Thielemann’s musical leadership has been just as consistently praised. So, what better choice for Opus Arte’s first-ever CD release? We can listen but don’t have to watch. Thielemann’s pacing and sense of orchestral color is masterly. Albert Dohman is a seasoned and insightful Wotan/Wanderer, Linda Watson a big-voiced and dramatically flexible Brünnhilde, and Stephen Gould a more-than-capable Siegfried.



Joe Banno
The Washington Post, March 2010

From the opening tracks of Opus Arte's new 14-CD set of Wagner's "Der Ring des Nibelungen" - recorded live at the 2008 Bayreuth Festival - Christian Thielemann shows himself a masterful Wagner conductor. Calibrating inner voices to illuminate the drama and building climaxes of sweeping power, he paces the four-opera cycle with a balance of expansiveness and forward motion, symphonic cohesion and molded phrasing. The brass is weighty and fat-sounding, string attacks are incisive and the woodwinds often sound engaged enough in the emotion of the piece to qualify as characters in the drama.

Thielemann is helped by recording engineers who have caught the famous glow of the Festspielhaus acoustic - the opera house that Wagner built - while providing orchestral sound of thrilling immediacy and punch. Voices, too, sound very present and register with a welcome roundness and clarity. And, in contrast to some recent, less-than-distinguished "Ring" recordings from provincial Central European houses, the voices here are worth preserving.

The Opus Arte "Ring" enters a crowded field, dominated by the legacy of legendary postwar recordings - most iconically the much-lauded 1955 Bayreuth cycle that appeared recently on the Testament label. A terrific set, quite deserving of its elevated status, the '55 cycle is, nevertheless, not without its share of vocal idiosyncrasies and fallibilities. Those Testament CDs are chock-full of great interpreters with acquired-taste voices - a point that often gets lost in the critical rush to tout its golden-age credentials.

If the 2008 Bayreuth cast also is uneven, the singers here really know what this music is about, and possess enough considerable strengths to nudge the new set into the upper echelon. As Brünnhilde, Linda Watson's jackhammer high notes are compensated for by the fullness and clarion power of her soprano, the tenderness of much of her singing and her affecting vocal acting. And while Stephen Gould may lack the nuance and outsized upper register of the greatest Siegfrieds, he offers something few of them have - a genuine ring of youth in his clear and forthright tenor. Albert Dohmen's Wotan, urgently acted and handsomely sung in a wide-ranging bass-baritone, brings to mind the classic Wotans of George London, Thomas Stewart and James Morris.

In fact, the quality of voices here is consistently high, as is the level of passion and color in those voices. Vibrant characters - not simply singers trying to cope with Wagner's demands, as one hears on some of the most recent "Ring" recordings - leap from the speakers in a way seldom heard since the great recorded cycles of the '50s and '60s.

Eva-Maria Westbroek's shimmering Sieglinde and Gutrune, Endrik Wottrich's gutsy Siegmund (his muscular timbre reminiscent of James McCracken's), Hans-Peter König's splendidly dark and menacing Hagen, Andrew Shore's memorably vivid Alberich - all of these are portrayals as confident and authentic as the best we've heard. Together with Thielemann's imposing work in the pit, this fine ensemble of contemporary Wagnerians make Opus Arte's "Ring" a worthy shelf-mate for the best recordings of generations past.



Mike Ashman
Gramophone, January 2010

From the opening tracks of Opus Arte's new 14-CD set of Wagner's "Der Ring des Nibelungen" - recorded live at the 2008 Bayreuth Festival - Christian Thielemann shows himself a masterful Wagner conductor. Calibrating inner voices to illuminate the drama and building climaxes of sweeping power, he paces the four-opera cycle with a balance of expansiveness and forward motion, symphonic cohesion and molded phrasing. The brass is weighty and fat-sounding, string attacks are incisive and the woodwinds often sound engaged enough in the emotion of the piece to qualify as characters in the drama.

Thielemann is helped by recording engineers who have caught the famous glow of the Festspielhaus acoustic - the opera house that Wagner built - while providing orchestral sound of thrilling immediacy and punch. Voices, too, sound very present and register with a welcome roundness and clarity. And, in contrast to some recent, less-than-distinguished "Ring" recordings from provincial Central European houses, the voices here are worth preserving.

The Opus Arte "Ring" enters a crowded field, dominated by the legacy of legendary postwar recordings - most iconically the much-lauded 1955 Bayreuth cycle that appeared recently on the Testament label. A terrific set, quite deserving of its elevated status, the '55 cycle is, nevertheless, not without its share of vocal idiosyncrasies and fallibilities. Those Testament CDs are chock-full of great interpreters with acquired-taste voices - a point that often gets lost in the critical rush to tout its golden-age credentials.

If the 2008 Bayreuth cast also is uneven, the singers here really know what this music is about, and possess enough considerable strengths to nudge the new set into the upper echelon. As Brünnhilde, Linda Watson's jackhammer high notes are compensated for by the fullness and clarion power of her soprano, the tenderness of much of her singing and her affecting vocal acting. And while Stephen Gould may lack the nuance and outsized upper register of the greatest Siegfrieds, he offers something few of them have - a genuine ring of youth in his clear and forthright tenor. Albert Dohmen's Wotan, urgently acted and handsomely sung in a wide-ranging bass-baritone, brings to mind the classic Wotans of George London, Thomas Stewart and James Morris.

In fact, the quality of voices here is consistently high, as is the level of passion and color in those voices. Vibrant characters - not simply singers trying to cope with Wagner's demands, as one hears on some of the most recent "Ring" recordings - leap from the speakers in a way seldom heard since the great recorded cycles of the '50s and '60s.

Eva-Maria Westbroek's shimmering Sieglinde and Gutrune, Endrik Wottrich's gutsy Siegmund (his muscular timbre reminiscent of James McCracken's), Hans-Peter König's splendidly dark and menacing Hagen, Andrew Shore's memorably vivid Alberich - all of these are portrayals as confident and authentic as the best we've heard. Together with Thielemann's imposing work in the pit, this fine ensemble of contemporary Wagnerians make Opus Arte's "Ring" a worthy shelf-mate for the best recordings of generations past.




Gramophone, January 2010

A mixed bag, this. What makes it worth investing in is Thielemann’s superlative conducting—powerful and often monumental yet able to bring out chamber-like details and the often broadly funny, often terrifying comedy in the score. The cast is erratic and to be honest doesn’t measure up to some rivals, but it’s still an intense and impressive piece of story-telling.




Mike Ashman
Gramophone, January 2010


David Denton
David's Review Corner, November 2009

The Bayreuth Festival has in years past provided landmark recordings of the complete Ring with the great singers of the day, this 2008 performance taking us to a new generation of sound excellence. It has been described as ‘Thielemann’s Ring’, for it is inspired by the conductor, Christian Theilemann, the multitude of orchestral colours and the sheer weight he often unleashes is awe-inspiring, while he unfailingly balances orchestra and singers. At the same time that he has arrived as the composer’s most impressive advocate, we are not well blessed with great Wagnerian voices and his cast is built from a team rather than a group of superstar names. That his participation is crucial is immediately evident in the slow and perfectly graded opening to Das Rheingold, and from  there we pass through the massive cast list in the succeeding operas that so completely relate to their various roles. Albert Dohmen takes time to warm his voice to the imperious, yet intrinsically foolish, Wotan, and in the opening act of Die Walküre we find the same is true of Endrik Wottrich’s Sigmund. He is a lyric singer to match the tender and suitably young Sieglinde from Eva-Maria Westbroek. Maybe the ideal voice for the part should have contrasted more with Linda Watson’s Brünnhilde when the two characters meet later in the opera, for Watson is not the heavyweight singer we have come to expect for the confrontation with Wotan at the climatic point of Walküre, but makes a more vulnerable Brünnhilde torn in loyalties. Thielemann had kept Rheingold at a high voltage throughout, but much of his Walküre smoulders, eventually raising the emotional temperature for the deeply moving scene between Sigmund and Brunnhilde leading to his death. He also resists the temptation to build the Ride of the Valkyrie into an orchestral showpiece, eventually unleashing its full weight in support Dohmen’s voice at the end of a long evening.

If Walküre is the slow movement in Theilemann’s symphonic view of the cycle, Siegfried is his scherzo, full of life and musical activity. He has a young sounding protagonist in Stephen Gould, more impetuously virile than a stereotype hero of yesteryear, the sparks flying in his encounters with the highly characterised Mime of Gerhard Siegel, and crowns the first act with a fine forging song. The grotesque elements of the first two acts are well captured, and Linda Watson is heard at her best in the tender moments of the closing scene. Götterdämmerung introduces Hans-Peter Konig’s massive and magnificently voiced Hagen to chill the soul, his presence, and that of Andrew Shore as the disfigured and depraved Alberich, taking the cycle to a high level of excellence. Throughout Theilemann has used urgent tempos, and this final installment is no exception, Siegfried’s funeral music never lingering, while the scene in the forest is finely spun in texture. Edith Haller’s Gutrune is a suitably naive character in this story of lies and cheating, and I much enjoyed Christa Mayer’s Waltraute. No one could blame Watson for keeping much back on previous nights to make the final scene her big moment, and she brings a tingle of excitement in her fearless ascents into the stratospheres. As we hear everything on stage crumbling in the all-consuming flames, Theilemann releases a mighty orchestral outburst to bring the cycle to a close, and through all four evenings the orchestra has played far beyond the call of duty.

Some of the effects do not come off, the hammering of the Nibelungs in Rheingold lacks numbers, and Mime’s attempts at forging the sword at the opening of Siegfried is almost inaudible. That has to be set beside a welcome lack of stage and audiences noises. With so many famous recordings occupying the catalogue, Opus Arte has chosen to place the attractively boxed set in the mid-price category which makes it a highly attractive purchase. German libretto with translations into French and English is included.






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8:21:50 PM, 1 August 2015
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