The Guardian, 30 January 2013
Andrew Clements
Wagner: Die Walküre – review
Taken from a series of concert performances that Valery Gergiev conducted in the Mariinsky Concert Hall in St Petersburg in February and April last year, this is the first instalment of what over the next two years will become a complete Ring: Das Rheingold will appear later this year, with Siegfried and Götterdammerung due in 2014. As with Gergiev's fine 2010 Parsifal, the new Walküre is founded upon the Mariinsky Opera's own staging, but with genuinely international-class Wagner singers drafted into the principal roles for the discs. On this recording, just Hunding (the very fine Mikhail Petrenko), Fricka (the more ordinary Ekaterina Gubanova), together with the eight Valkyries are company singers.

In the first act at least, with Jonas Kaufmann as an incomparable Siegmund, Anja Kampe a profoundly moving Sieglinde and Gergiev pacing the performance to an overwhelming climax, the result is spellbinding. In fact, few performances on disc can match it for sheer excitement, or for Kaufmann's blend of easy power, immaculate diction and lyric beauty. It would have been miraculous if the rest of the performance had been able to maintain the same level, and it doesn't. The huge span of the second act has proved the stumbling block for many Wagner conductors, and Gergiev doesn't quite bring it off, either. The focus comes and goes, with the dramatic pulse quickening unnaturally when things start to flag, and, for all his evenness and beauty of tone, René Pape's Wotan does not project the strength of character to bind it all together.

Both Pape and Nina Stemme's Brünnhilde are more comfortable in the third act, which seems all of a piece again dramatically. Kampe's final moments are simply glorious, too, and though Pape's subsequent reproaches to his daughter seem a bit uninvolved, he sings the Farewell with touching fondness while Gergiev obtains transcendently beautiful playing from the Mariinsky Orchestra. Even if, except in the first act, this doesn't challenge the finest Walküres on disc, it's still a fine beginning to what promises to be a very worthwhile cycle.

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