Reviewed by: Peter Reed
Mariinsky/Valery Gergiev – Wagner’s Die Walküre
This Mariinsky Die Walküre is the first release of the company’s Ring cycle. The recording is based on concert performances that Valery Gergiev conducted. Any misgivings I may have had regarding Gergiev as a Wagner conductor were blown away by his superb 2009 recording of Parsifal and then by a concert performance of it at the Barbican Hall in April 2012. In this Die Walküre the main roles are sung by established Wagner artists, with the smaller ones of Hunding and Fricka vividly sung by respectively Mikhail Petrenko and Ekaterina Gubanova. The eight Valkyries are company singers – I wonder if Natalia Evstafieva will be the Götterdämmerung Waltraute; she’s very good.

The set’s USP will be Jonas Kaufmann’s superb Siegmund, if anything more penetrating and tragic than he is on the Met’s Ring cycle on DVD. The low-lying tessitura of a lot of Siegmund’s music allows Kaufmann to explore to the full his effortless beauty of tone, his nuanced relationship with the text and the romantic inwardness of this fatalistic role, and when he moves into assertively tenor territory, the result is electrifying. In Act One, initially he isn’t well matched by Anja Kampe’s rather solid Sieglinde, but from the third scene onwards, the heaviness dissolves and the twins go on to carve out their crucial function in the cycle with overwhelming passion. It’s well worth listening with the libretto to get an idea of how both singers convey its complexities with unusual and natural ease.

After a surprisingly restrained Prelude, depicting a storm, Gergiev establishes a sure sense of momentum in Act One, with a wealth of detail – you can imagine his famously flickering fingers working overtime – and the climax is shattering. Act Two is just as fine, Gergiev’s restraint and generally spacious tempos paying huge dividends in the flow between the three long dialogues. Gubanova has a rather pronounced vibrato (mainly noticeable because the other singers do not) but is a suitably outraged Fricka. As Wotan, René Pape sings with cultivated consistency of tone, and his subtle use of quasi-Sprechgesang in the most interior passages of the god’s ‘Narration’ is very effective. Yet, while he projects the bitterness of the outmanoeuvred Wotan, he doesn’t approach his dark authority and grandeur until the ‘Farewell’ of Act Three, and even there his characterisation is bigger on love and regret than on epic despair. He’s at his best in the finale with Brünnhilde, the softening of his fury plotted with great care.

Some may want a bit more Valkyrian abrasiveness from Brünnhilde than supplied by Nina Stemme, but she is mesmerising in the ‘Todesverkündigung’, as is Kaufmann – the way he gathers Siegmund’s hushed assertiveness, fuelling Brünnhilde’s change of mind, is unforgettable. The warmth and generosity of Stemme’s singing make her a particularly sympathetic Brünnhilde (and will do more so, probably, in the last two music-dramas) and she is thrilling in the Act Three plea-bargaining with Wotan. With a full-throttle ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ and some sumptuous orchestral playing, this is a Die Walküre to be reckoned with.

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