Marek Janowski
Rundfunkchor Berlin
Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin
15 March 2013
Philharmonie Berlin
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
SiegfriedLance Ryan
BrünnhildePetra Lang
GuntherMarkus Brück
GutruneEdith Haller
AlberichJochen Schmeckenbecher
HagenMatti Salminen
WaltrauteMarina Prudenskaya
WoglindeJulia Borchert
WellgundeKatharina Kammerloher
FloßhildeKismara Pessatti
1. NornSusanne Resmark
2. NornChrista Mayer
3. NornJacquelyn Wagner

Janowski, the celebrated Wagner conductor, made the first digital recording of the complete Ring cycle between 1980 and 1983 for RCA-BMG, with the Staatskapelle Dresden. With these recent performances his intention was to focus attention entirely on Wagner’s music without any directorial distractions – a point emphasised by Norbert Lammert, president of the German Bundestag, in his ‘greeting’ in the accompanying booklet. There is also a full German/English libretto and interesting background notes on the opera by Steffen Georgi translated into French, as well as, English. Prof. Dr. Lammert elaborates on how Janowski wanted to make it possible to hear some of the nuances in Wagner’s works that can often be lost in the opera house. At the same time this concentration on the voices and the music – along with the excellent acoustics of Berlin’s famous Philharmonie – gave the best possible conditions for a live recording.

Janowski’s Hagen for his 1980s’ Ring was Matti Salminen and the veteran bass returned some thirty years later to sing it for him again. The Philharmonie ‘belongs’ to the Berlin Philharmonic and because each concert needed a fixed rehearsal period this meant that the RSB was limited in its options for suitable dates. Some cast changes resulted for this current Ring including two Brünnhildes and two Siegfrieds. In March 2013 when it was finally over, Petra Lang in an elegant black evening gown stood still with her arms to her sides having taken charge of events during the ‘Immolation Scene’ – both as her character, Brünnhilde, and as a singer relatively new to her role. She had earlier sung a superb Brünnhilde in Die Walküre, with Violeta Urmana – in her own role début – proving a reasonably adequate replacement in Siegfried, especially because she really does not have much to sing.

As I recalled earlier, the concert in Berlin ended a few minutes before midnight with a standing ovation for the singers and the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra – but most especially for their conductor and artistic director Marek Janowski. The orchestra obviously likes him, and with good reason. Everything heard live and on CD suggests he clearly loves these scores. He absolutely fulfils Wagner’s need for his music-dramas to allow for a straightforwardly retelling of the narrative, with utmost clarity and without undue reverence or unnecessary re-interpretation. Also I cannot praise the orchestral interludes highly enough, yet these too seem totally integrated into Janowski’s overall musical vision. Throughout, the conductor’s approach to this Ring has seemed swifter than some of his contemporaries, nevertheless it sounds entirely appropriate because of a total control of the music’s tempo, flow and arc. In the famous hall, from where I was sitting, the sheer volume he unleashed from time to time challenged some of the singers. Although the orchestral balance has been adjusted on the recording the effect it had on some of the soloists’ performances remains audibly present. By no means is Matti Salminen the only one to suffer this. Hagen’s call to the vassals in Act II tested both him and the Eberhard Friedrich-trained Berlin Radio Chorus to the full. This can still be heard on this CD.

Nevertheless, when Valhalla had finally been set ablaze and the last bars faded away, the audience in the Philharmonie remained spellbound. There was complete silence before Janowski lowered his hands and a voice from on high – summing it all up for those who would acclaim the Polish maestro, his singers and musicians – cried out ‘Danke!’ I suspect he had been at all ten evenings and gave thanks for this wonderful project. I miss that sense of ‘occasion’ on these CDs.

It is not all just about the music, and Götterdämmerung brings many challenges for its roster of singers. The trios of Norns and Rhine daughters sound better here than when I heard them in Berlin where their positioning on the edge of the platform may not have been to their advantage. Jochen Schmeckenbecher confirms the good impression I had of him from Siegfried and I look forward to hearing his Alberich again. Markus Brück and Edith Haller were well paired as Gunther and Gutrune. Marina Prudenskaya brought real pathos and dark Slavic hues to Waltraute.

That leaves the important triumvirate for any Götterdämmerung – that of Hagen, Siegfried and Brünnhilde. I am sure Salminen would have sounded fresher in his earlier recording for Janowski … how could he not? However, sometimes gravitas is more important than smoothness of vocal projection. Salminen’s impressive Hagen is grizzled and careworn in the same way John Tomlinson’s now is. It remains just as engrossing an assumption of this pivotal role. Lance Ryan continues to be everywhere these days as Siegfried, including last summer’s new Bayreuth Ring. On the one hand, I commend him for his lyrical approach as this is very much my style of Wagner Heldentenor singing. One of his early teachers was Gianni Raimondi who I saw in Vienna near the end of his career and remains one of the finest tenors I have ever heard. However, for Siegfried’s significant moments Lance Ryan’s voice is not nearly Helden (heroic) enough for me. He sounds like a pumped-up Loge and frequently resorts to shouting too much.

At this recorded performance Petra Lang was relatively new to the Götterdämmerung Brünnhilde and had yet to sing it on stage in a production. When I saw her on stage in Paris in June 2013 she was quite outstanding and better than she is here, even though – as captured on CD – her voice doesn’t sound as good as I recall when I was sitting in the hall. That Ms Lang is so good now is only to be expected as she will be more used to its demands. There is a significant difference between learning any role and performing it. Nevertheless, this celebrated singer still reveals here many of the wonderful qualities for which she is famed. The words are well enunciated and she has a rich dark sound across her lowest registers to which she has added some laser-bright top notes. Though this may not be the sound some listeners want, I certainly much prefer Petra Lang taking risks occasionally on this recording to Nina Stemme’s ultra-safe Brünnhilde at the BBC Proms in July when she seemed temperamentally unsuited to the role. Petra Lang is currently pre-eminent in any Wagner requiring spite or vengeance; Ortrud for example. There is plenty of this for her in Gotterdammerung: she is at her imperious best in Act II when seeking revenge, as well as, during her incandescent final moments in Act III.

There is a definite crisis about casting the huge Wagner operas in the twenty-first century, which is something I cannot debate further here. The three Ring operas I have reviewed on CD in this series have been rather vocally uneven but there have still been some moments of memorable singing. They all come with Maestro Janowski’s fresh and totally gimmick-free Wagner.

Jim Pritchard | 14 January 2014


In 1983 Marek Janowski conducted the first all-digital Ring cycle with a strong cast including Theo Adam (Wotan), Rene Kollo (Siegfried), Jeannine Altmeyer (Brünnhilde) and Jesse Norman and Siegfried Jerusalem as the Walsung twins. Now, thirty or so years later, this recording of Götterdämmerung closes Janowski’s 3-year traversal in concert performances of Wagner’s major music dramas, all released by Pentatone as SACDs in handsome packaging and with libretti. The 1983 Ring has consistently been well regarded and many Wagnerians recommend it as one of the best studio recordings, particularly since it has been released in a bargain set by Sony. Unfortunately, on the evidence of this concert performance of the final installment of the tetralogy, the new Ring does not come close to the achievements of the 1983 predecessor.

The real problem with this new Götterdämmerung is the singing of the two principals. Lance Ryan is a very disappointing Siegfried. Reputed to be one of the leading heldentenors of the moment and Ryan will be singing Siegfried at Bayreuth this summer. But he certainly seems to have had an off day on March 15, 2013 (when this performance was recorded at the Berlin Philharmonie). He wobbles badly in the very first duet in Act 1 and has real difficulty projecting his personality in Act 2 – it is hard to imagine him imposing his will on the Gibichung vassals. Not until “Brünnhilde, Heilige Braut” in Act 3 do we get a glimpse of what Ryan might be capable of.

Petra Lang seems more naturally a mezzo-soprano, and the role of Brünnhilde is something of a stretch at times. She takes a while to get into the role in Act 1. Clearly out-acted by Marina Prudenskaya’s Waltraute in the Scene 3 duet, she starts to act a little more in the last part of the act when Siegfried reappears as Gunther. She too is weak in Act 2. Things pick up in Act 3. The Immolation scene is much better characterized. But she is still short of the vocal power and expressive range required for the powerful Brünnhilde. Like Ryan she strains at key moments – e.g. when she sends the ravens home to Valhalla.

The other main characters are much better. Matti Salminen’s Hagen is the only constant across the two iterations and he gives a characteristically fine performance. Hagen’s “Hier sitz ich zur Wacht, wahre den hof” is the highlight of Act 1 and the Act 2 duet with Alberich (well sung by Jochen Schmeckenbecher) is very powerful. Markus Brück’s Gunther and Edith Haller’s Gutrune are above average and really carry the main scene in Act 2.

Janowski reveals himself once again to be a first-rate Wagner conductor. His conducting is searching in Siegfried’s Funeral March and finely paced at the finale. The Prelude to Act 2 also stands out. Unfortunately the quality of the singing lets him down and I would find it hard to recommend this set, particularly since it is significantly more expensive than the entire 1983 Janowski Ring.

José Luis Bermúdez | Copyright © 2014


No other recorded cycle of Wagner’s ten complete mature operas has been completed as swiftly as Marek Janowski’s, the Ring’s final instalment fittingly concluding the enterprise. The greatest cause for satisfaction in it is the playing of the magnificent Berlin Radio Symphony, which shows no signs whatever of tiring in this enormous work, despite the immense demands made on it during a recording made – if the booklet is to be believed – in a single live performance. The sound, too, does justice to the intensity of the playing, and to Janowski’s eliciting crucial details in even the most thickly scored passages. It is a comparatively quick performance, knocking about 25 minutes off the average time for Götterdämmerung, but there is rarely a sense of hurry, thanks to the skilful judging of relative tempos.

That’s most of the good news: unfortunately this version can’t possibly be recommended, due to the casting of the two chief roles: Lance Ryan as Siegfried and Petra Lang as Brünnhilde. Ryan is quite peculiarly poor and tight-throated, and he almost never shows any insight into the part. Tantalisingly, in Siegfried’s finest – and last – hour, Ryan finally shows signs of sensitivity but ‘too little, too late’ would be an understatement. I wish I could say much more favourable things about Petra Lang, but she is a mezzo who should not have undertaken this demanding role. Her voice sounds too small, she has trouble reaching her high notes and her low notes aren’t what they were. The other singers are all good, with the veteran bass Matti Salminen still a superb Hagen – but he is heard in better company elsewhere. It’s frustrating for anyone who has been collecting the whole Janowski series – Parsifal was BBC Music Magazine Recording of the Month in June 2012 – but there are so many fine recordings of this masterwork that it would be irresponsible to recommend this one.

Michael Tanner | June 17, 2014

Der Tagesspiegel

Mit Donnerhall

Was ist geblieben von den Wonnen und Weltenbränden des Wagner-Jahrs 2013? Eine Erschöpfung gewiss, ausgelöst vom Dauerfeuer dramatischer Stimmen, aber auch durch szenische Zurichtungen, die eher von einer Unlust am Gesamtkunstwerk künden, anstatt neue Runen zu weisen. Marek Janowski hat das alles kommen hören. Der Chef des Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchesters Berlin ist ein Kritiker der zeitgenössischen Bühnenpraxis, bei der es ihm viel zu wenig um die Musik geht. Also starteten Janowski und seine Musiker schon im November 2010 ihren Wagner-Zyklus, der zweieinhalb Jahre lang die zehn Opern des Bayreuther Kanons konzertant in die Philharmonie wuchtete. Pflichttermine für wertkonservative Hörer. Jetzt ist der Wagner-Zyklus des RSB selbst Konserve geworden, das niederländische Label Pentatone veröffentlich alle Live-Mitschnitte als Hybrid-Multichannel-CDs. Schlussstein ist die Berliner „Götterdämmerung“, mit der Janowskis Wagner-Zyklus am 15. März 2013 umjubelt schloss.

Der Dirigent bereitet sich selbst die ärgste Vergleichsnot. Vor 30 Jahren spielte Janowski einen Studio-„Ring“ mit der Dresdner Staatskapelle ein, der sich noch heute preisgünstig im CD-Sortiment findet. Zu Recht, denn seine Stringenz und Verlässlichkeit werden selten erreicht. Auch in Berlin wieder dabei: Matti Salminen, der inzwischen 68 Jahre alte finnische Bass-Gigant, in seiner Paraderolle als Hagen. Ist das nur eine Besetzungssentimentalität des ansonsten gänzlich unsentimentalen Maestro? Nein, Salminen ragt noch einmal zu dämonischer Größe auf, schleudert heraus, was er hat, und trifft oft. Da möchte man kein Siegfried sein. Doch Lance Ryan, der sich auch durch Castorfs Bayreuther „Ring“ schlug, graust es vor nichts. Zunächst quäkend wie ein zweiter Mime, eher scharf zeichnender Charakter- als Heldentenor, entwaffnet er doch durch die Unbekümmertheit, mit der er durch die mörderische Partie turnt. Schön ist das oft nicht, aber: treffend.

Bei Janowski darf man nicht erwarten, dass Sänger über sich hinauswachsen, wie es Kirill Petrenko in Bayreuth gelang. Dafür denkt der RSB-Chef zu stark vom Orchestersatz her, dem seine ungeteilte Aufmerksamkeit gilt. Und es ist erstaunlich, was den Musikern des RSB unter ihrem gestrengen Chef gelingt: nie versiegende Fließkraft, Geschmeidigkeit, Suche nach Klarheit selbst im ärgsten Getümmel. So offenbart sich diese „Götterdämmerung“ als Dokument erfolgreicher Orchestererziehung, die auch auf Misstrauen fußt – und sich deshalb anfälliger für vokale Härten zeigt. Wagner ohne Reue gibt es nicht, auch im Nach-Jubeljahr.

Ulrich Amling | 12.01.2014


Finis coronat opus

Avec bonheur, on retrouve pour cet opus ultime du cycle Wagner de Marek Janowski, édité par Pentatone Classics, la direction toujours aussi tonique et vivifiante du chef, que les années, à rebours de toute logique, semblent avoir fait rajeunir. Au prologue, la scène des Nornes est d’emblée placée sous le signe d’une intensité dramatique qui ne se dément pas durant les plus de quatre heures de l’œuvre. Quant au duo Siegfried/Brünnhilde, si souvent lourd et pesant, il gagne ici une fraîcheur et un allant qui font oublier la relative trivialité de ces pages très convenues. Tout au long de l’écoute, on est conquis par le naturel et l’évidence de cette direction, déjà saluée dans les trois premiers volets du Ring, et qui a l’immense vertu de dépoussiérer cette musique pour mieux faire ressortir sa force dramatique et l’insondable complexité de son écriture. Cela se vérifie en particulier dans les interludes orchestraux, absolument irrésistibles. Une fois encore, il faut rendre l’hommage qui leur est dû aux ingénieurs du son de Pentatone Classics, dont la prise de son, idéale de transparence, est un modèle du genre : chapeau bas.

Quel dommage que le chef n’ait pas proposé, avant la représentation, un peu de son élixir de jouvence aux deux principaux protagonistes vocaux de la soirée ! Car il faut bien reconnaître que le Siegfried de Lance Ryan et la Brünnhilde de Petra Lang constituent les deux déceptions de cet enregistrement, et de taille. Impossible de passer sous silence, pour elle, en dépit d’une certaine forme de robustesse, l’engorgement quasi permanent de l’émission, un aigu tiré et souvent laid, et pour lui une émission poussive et trémulante doublée d’un timbre nasillard qui donnerait presque l’impression que Brünnhilde a jeté son dévolu sur… Mime ! Sans doute s’agit-il, pour ces deux chanteurs par ailleurs familiers de ce répertoire, d’une « soirée sans », inévitable pour qui fait son gagne pain de la fréquentation de rôles aussi épuisants. Cette évidente méforme vocale disqualifie hélas des scènes entières de l’œuvre: le duo du prologue, la scène finale du I, une bonne partie du II. Étonnamment, nos deux « héros » semblent se ressaisir sur la fin : Siegfried meurt à peu près dignement (à moins que ce ne soit l’effet du soulagement d’être arrivé vivant au bout de la soirée ?) et Brünnhilde apparaît en meilleure forme pour l’Immolation : on ne s’en plaindra pas.

Le reste de la distribution se situe au diapason de la direction du chef : saine, juvénile et de haute tenue. Il y a bien longtemps (depuis Grümmer ?) que l’on n’avait pas entendu une Gutrune aussi convaincante que celle d’Edith Haller : elle arrive à faire exister son personnage, ce qui est une gageure. On retrouve avec bonheur l’Alberich idoine de Jochen Schmeckenbecher, assurément un des meilleurs du moment. Le Gunther de Markus Bruck ne dépare pas l’ensemble, même si, contrairement à sa sœur, il ne parvient pas totalement à gommer le caractère falot de son personnage. La Waltraute de Marina Prudenskaya est époustouflante : la voix est superbe, idéalement timbrée sur l’ensemble de la tessiture, prenante, et l’investissement dramatique total. Elle écrase sans difficulté sa demi-sœur lors de leur confrontation… Très bonnes Nornes et Filles du Rhin, parfaitement idiomatiques et, contrairement à une habitude fâcheuse, aucunement sous-distribuées (on rappellera à ce sujet qu’Astrid Varnay, Martha Mödl et Birgit Nilsson, les trois grandissimes Brünnhilde de l’après-guerre, ne dédaignaient pas, pour se mettre en voix, endosser les habits de la Deuxième Norne au début du Crépuscule…). Les chœurs de la Radio de Berlin, placés entre les mains expertes d’Eberhard Friedrich, sont, comme toujours, superlatifs. On terminera par un gigantesque coup de chapeau, doublé d’un coup de cœur, pour le Hagen majuscule de Matti Salminen, vieux routier des scènes wagnériennes qui, à 70 ans passés, semble défier le poids des ans : voilà une authentique incarnation, idéale de noirceur, maléfique, terrifiante à force d’insinuation, servie par une diction irréprochable : une vraie trogne vocale, qui sert à l’auditeur une leçon de théâtre en musique. Pas de doute, c’est bien lui qui tire les ficelles du drame !

Seule la contre-performance criante (dans tous les sens du terme…) du couple de héros empêche d’accorder à cet enregistrement les 4 cœurs que par ailleurs il mériterait tellement. Qu’importe ! Finis coronat opus : ce Crépuscule des Dieux clôt superbement le pari d’une certaine manière insensé de ce cycle Wagner entamé fin 2011 et déroulé sur deux années pleines. Une grande continuité caractérise ces dix enregistrements : c’est celle qui découle de la direction du chef, idéalement dramatique, nerveuse, aérée. Pour servir ce dessein, le chef a réussi, à de très rares exceptions près, à réunir auprès de lui des distributions d’un très bon niveau (avec, bien sûr, quelques regrets: Kaufmann, Pape…). Cela nous vaut, au total, une des initiatives les plus remarquables de ce bicentenaire wagnérien : elle permet de constater qu’en 2013, sous l’ombre tutélaire des grands anciens, on peut encore avoir quelque chose de neuf à apporter à la discographie wagnérienne. Au moment où il s’achève, on saluera donc avec gratitude ce projet rafraîchissant et si utile. C’était un pari : assurément, il est gagné.

Julien Marion | 3 janvier 2014

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
590 kbit/s VBR, 44.1 kHz, 1.0 GByte (flac)
Broadcast of a concert performance
This recording is part of a complete Ring cycle.