Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Keyword Search
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews

See latest reviews of other albums...

American Record Guide, June 2007

"Great orchestral playing and conducting, but also a very good Wotan and a superb Erda. I'd never heard of Swedish-born Helene Ranada, but she has a strong, deep, clear, and powerful contralto produced with only minimal vibrato. She is about the best Erda I've ever heard among living artists. Actually, she's more in the class of Schumann-Heink, Olszewska, Ferrier, et al. This level of vocal artistry is not pervasive, but what is offered is better than in the preceding volumes, and as a result Siegfried turns out to be a big improvement over the Naxos Rheingold and Walküre."

"The best thing this project has going for it is the Stuttgart orchestra and its conductor, Lothar is clear that this team is capable of creating absolutely first-rate orchestral Wagner...." His tempos in Siegfried are slow, the whole work lasting four hours-longer than the norm by perhaps 15 minutes. The orchestral playing is splendid; the horn lines in the fire music of Act III, for example, are exceptionally fine."

"Aside from Ms Ranada, Wolfgang Schöne cuts an impressive figure as the Wanderer (Wotan disguised), while Heinz Göhrig and Bjön Waag are more than adequately supportive as Mime and Alberich. Attila June is adequate as Fafner, as is Gabriela Herrera as the Forest Bird....Lisa Gasteen, an Australian, has no difficulty being heard above the orchestra, for she has a really big and clear voice, which is obvious as soon as she has awakened and sung ‘Heil dir, Sonne; Heil dir, Licht’....Jon Frederic West is an American. His tenor is strong, and his intonation is fine."

"Naxos's sound is clear, undistorted, and highly detailed, with ideal balance between orchestra and voices. A quiet audience is present, and there are some occasional stage noises, but nothing very disturbing."

"So, in summary, a splendid performance by conductor and orchestra with a cast that is somewhat less illustrious, but far more effective than in the preceding volumes. I hope a cast of at least equal quality is on hand for Götterdämmerung, which I look forward to hearing. At low Naxos prices, this is highly recommended."

Andrew Quint
Fanfare, May 2007

Gasteen is ardent from the get-go—she doesn’t seem to have much doubt about giving herself over to Siegfried, not especially frightened by her new sexual awareness. High notes are consistently secure, and she really nails a couple of high Cs before the curtain comes down.

Björn Waag’s vocal quality is nicely contrasted to Schöne’s—you don’t want an Alberich and Wanderer that sound too similar—and their important scene at the start of the second act has the requisite degree of conflict.

The orchestral contribution is very impressive: two highlights include the dark and dangerous mood Zagrosek creates with the Prelude to act II and the music that accompanies Siegfried’s ascent to Brünnhilde’s rock. © 2007 Fanfare Read complete review

David Harbin
MusicWeb International, April 2007

"This is a more-than-competent recording of an extraordinary opera. Siegfried is structured around three sets of three conversations with overriding themes of upheaval and revolution. The hero rebels against his treacherous guardian to find freedom through experience of both fear and love. And the gods' dominance increases its downward tilt in favour of the rising power of men."

"West's Siegfried has the heldentenor chops to stay the course with impressive power, precise diction and legato."

"Göhrig resists over-egging here and his Mime is all the more real for it. There is innate beauty in Göhrig’s voice, expertly coloured to portray the wheedling, whining dwarf."

"Australian soprano Lisa Gasteen’s ringing, warm Brünnhilde is admirably clear and she digs into her chest voice for passionate expression. Gasteen is fresher voiced than Astrid Varnay's fruity Brünnhilde on Testament and Gasteen does not use Varnay’s excessive portamenti. Yet Varnay is steadier and more thrilling when attacking or coming off notes, particularly in the final verse."

"Schöne's Wanderer has delicious dark metallic resonance and he shifts colours dramatically."

"Helene Ranada's Erda is a treat: rich and metallic, bringing out both Erda's increasing desperation and exasperation."

"Jun is a truly terrifying dragon, a voice from the dark pit. The sonics bring Jun more into focus as he recalls his folly in Rheingold, as if Fafner the giant was again present."

"Herrera is a bright woodbird with a welcome suggestion of avian flutter."

"Zagrosek's conducting is natural and unexaggerated, drawing warmth from a saturated orchestral palette. Brass never unduly blare, unlike the Solti set, but can have tremendous weight in key scenes, such as the slaying of Fafner."

"Voices are not too forward and always clear within a dry acoustic. Perspectives are decent overall. Stage noises add theatricality and the few audience coughs are unobtrusive."

"The Naxos booklet contains cast biographies, a brief essay and a cued synopsis... This Naxos Siegfried is ‘a keeper’."

Göran Forsling
MusicWeb International, March 2007

This is the third instalment in Naxos’s complete Ring cycle from the Staatstheater Stuttgart. The standard is increasing for each part. What is special about this cycle is that each part has its own director and cast, which seems to be unique so far. The gain could be that for each opera we get new insights, new interpretations; the loss is a lack of continuity. The cycle is also available on DVD – which I haven’t seen – but on the CDs we are not “disturbed” by directors’ whims and can concentrate on the music.

Even here though we miss continuity: there is for instance a new Wotan for each part, a new Alberich etc. Not having heard Das Rheingold, but seen some less than enthusiastic reviews, I approached Die Walküre with some apprehension, which to some extent was justified: Sieglinde and Siegmund were only intermittently palatable, Brünnhilde also had her squally moments and Wotan was authoritative enough but dry-voiced and sometimes strained. There were also some good things, however, and the playing of the renowned Staatsorchester Stuttgart under their experienced maestro Lothar Zagrosek was much to my taste, even though hearing Furtwängler’s famous recording some time after, showed that even more could be found in the score. What also disturbed me was all that stage noise that the microphones have a tendency to pick up with even higher fidelity than the orchestra and the singers. This is very much the case also with this Siegfried. One expects Siegfried’s sword to be forged, but this is also written into the score; here were sundry items dropped, thrown, banged, stamped – you name it – and sometimes I had to literally crouch behind the furniture to avoid being hit by unidentified flying objects. I was lucky, though, to survive as opposed to both Mime and Fafner. The Wanderer’s spear was demolished with stunning realism. Playing at moderate volume the stage noises are still bearable, but with headphones and at reviewer’s volume the background and foreground sounds may cause a nervous break-down.

The music redeems these disadvantages and the orchestra play excellently with full and homogenous string tone with the important low brass chillingly menacing. The inspiration grows through the performance and when we reach the ultimate disc the interlude connecting scene 2 and 3 of the last act is really fiery (CD4 tr. 4). The prelude illustrating Brünnhilde’s awakening (CD4 tr. 7) is lustily evocative with its ecstatic high strings and harp chords. The whole final duet (CD4 tr. 8 – 14) – certainly Wagner at his most inspired – draws marvellous playing from the orchestra; no wonder they were named “Orchestra of the Year 2002” by the prestigious Opernwelt. Siegfried is notoriously difficult to bring off, to find the ideal tempos – something that Gregor Bühl stressed in connection with the premiere in Stockholm last September (see review), but to my mind Zagrosek is very successful.

The greatest singing on this set undoubtedly comes from Lisa Gasteen as Brünnhilde. I had many good words to say about her Brünnhilde in the Australian Walküre which I reviewed about half a year ago and her all too short appearance here only confirms that impression. Heil dir, Sonne (CD4 tr. 8) rings out with uninhibited power and beauty of tone and she also has a lyric vein, e.g. Dort seh’ ich Grane (CD4 tr. 10). She may have her shrill moments but they are easily forgotten in the face of such involvement and intensity. Though not similar to either Nilsson or Varnay – my favourite Brünnhildes – she is certainly not far behind in vocal and dramatic qualities. Among today’s Hochdramatische sopranos she has few peers. Melba have announced that their Siegfried, with Lisa Gasteen again as Brünnhilde, is due for release. I am expecting to have it for review in a few days. A mouth-watering prospect considering her singing here.

There is much to admire in this latest instalment in the Naxos Ring cycle and even though it doesn’t oust the established top contenders – Solti, Böhm, Barenboim – it can still hold its own in a crowded field.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, January 2007

In the third opera of The Ring cycle things are going from bad to worse for the God's, a young upstart, Siegfried, having slain the dreaded dragon, smashing Wotan's spear that has been his emblem of supreme authority. It is story fanciful in content, Wagner fashioning a heroic part for Siegfried, the only person that the snivelling Mime recognises as strong enough to use the large sword needed to kill Fafner in his shape as a dragon. Once dead Mime could grab the magic ring that is being guarded by the monster, and that task achieved Siegfried could be poisoned leaving the ultimate power of the ring in Mime grasp. Those plans are fortunately revealed to Siegfried by the Forest Bird, and it is he who kills the dwarf before setting out on a journey that eventually leads to Brunnhilde, the opera ending with the two embraced in love. That's the general idea of the plot that goes down so many byroads. Dominating the first act is the sword-forging scene, Jon Frederic West - as one would expect in a 'live' performance - rather saving his voice for a big heroic last act confrontation with Wotan in the assumed person of The Wanderer. From the outset Wolfgang Schone seems a doomed person, and no match for the young man in the eventual meeting. On disc the portrait of Mime has often strayed far from the actual music, Solti's famous studio recording a first class example. Here Heinz Gohrig takes a middle road with ample bewailing of his fate, but also keeping - within reason - to the essence of the score. Brunnhilde's belated appearance leaves Lisa Gasteen with little time to make her presence felt, but she has a nice voice rather removed from the customary heavyweight vocal projection. It is an opera where Wagner gives a great deal of scene painting to the orchestra, and this plays to the strength of this 'live' performance, Lothar Zegrosek keeping the music moving with urgency. Orchestral solos are well taken, the horn solos a particular joy. Just at one point does Zegrosek disappoint, the end of the first act not really packing sufficient punch. The attempt to magnify Fafner's cavernous presence results in a grating quality, but otherwise the engineers have obtained a very realistic balance between orchestra and the singers on stage, extraneous noises often helping to highlight the action.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group