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My Janowski/Pentatone Ring Cycle arrived yesterday (along with 8 other SACD's)

24.7.1.152

Posted on July 23, 2020 at 18:13:59
Chris from Lafayette
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I became aware of it when I heard this large "thunk" near my door, as the postal delivery person apparently decided to drop the 14" x 14" box from a bit of a height. It was just SACD's, so no harm, no foul I thought. But when I lifted the box, it was surprisingly heavy, and I kept thinking to myself, "What the heck is in here?". I opened the box and had to remove a considerable amount of packing material, which turned out to be (I kid you not!) wadded-up pages of the New York Times, which I promptly read over (very carefully!) before recycling.

It turned out that the Ring Cycle recordings were enclosed in this almost-LP-sized box, which also included a deluxe book of notes and libretti (same almost-LP-sized dimensions, 274 pages worth). Each page was printed on very heavy paper stock (almost card stock), which accounted for the weight - the book was heavy. The SACD's themselves were enclosed in a separate LP-sized enclosure within the main box. Unfortunately, the way the SACD's were packed was very user-unfriendly, with the discs wedged in these tight recesses of the heavy stock (heavier than that used for the book) - you really take a chance on scratching the discs as you remove each one and put it back. Not good industrial design, but still, the whole package exuded an air of lavishness even so.

So I started at the end, with Gotterdammerung. My first impression from those two extraordinary chords which begin the opera was, "Wow! This is the best sound quality I've heard on a Ring Cycle, bar none!". This was rather surprising to me, because these recordings were made at live concert performances, and, very often, the engineers will use lots of directional microphones to try to wipe out audience noise. But the result of mixing all these microphones together is that the sound usually takes on a synthetic quality, with front-to-back space rather congested. But not in this case! Indeed, there was no audience noise, but I would swear that, from the depth and range of the sound, this recording was made under ideal studio conditions. Well done, Pentatone - you guys really seem to have the measure of Berlin's Philharmonie, even with all your microphones!

Kas and others had warned me about the dubious quality of the singing in the main roles in this cycle, but the Norns sounded pretty good. But as the scene transformed to the passionate protestations with Brunhilde and Siegfried, I had to acknowledge that Kas was right (and the MWI critic was too generous). Petra Lang, as Brunhilde, is not that old, and yet, she's got this very slow, wobbly vibrato which makes her sound kind of matronly. Too bad, although I think she got a bit better as the opera progressed (or maybe I just got used to it!). In any case, the Brunhilde in Janowski's 1980 Ring Cycle, Jeanine Altmeyer seemed much stronger and youthful (even though Altmeyer took a more gentle approach to the role than such stalwarts as Nilsson did!).

As Siegfried, Lance Ryan bothered me even more. It's hard to believe that he's the best we've got now. (He also appears in Mehta's "Science Fiction" Ring Cycle with the Valencia Forces on blu-ray, as well as on Barenboim's La Scala recording AND the Weigle/Frankfurt Opera recording on Oehms.) I have the Mehta Ring, and I thought he sounded better there. Here, he just sounds too small for the role, and, in a couple of places, just snatches for notes (although I have the greatest respect for singers who sing this incredibly demanding role live on stage or in concert). Well, that's too bad. At least the minor roles were all generally better sung.

The orchestral playing, by the Berlin RSO was just outstanding. Some chords which to my ears did not sound distinct or defined in other Ring performances I've heard, are so well pitched and balanced here that I was more impressed by the music's continuity and drama than ever before! And that's saying something when some of the other Ring Cycles I've heard were with the BPO (Karajan) and the VPO (Solti). I'm almost in awe of how well the orchestra performed on this newer recording. And Janowski himself seemed to have a very sure instinct for how to control and evoke the music's ebb and flow, even when his tempos in a couple of places surprised me.

In summary, it's too bad that the Siegfried and Brunhilde weren't better, but the orchestra and sound quality still made listening a satisfying experience. I guess maybe the next opera I'll listen to will be Siegfried, where I expect Violeta Urmana to sing the Siegfried Brunhilde even less well than Petra Lang sings the Gotterdammerung Brunhilde. We'll see.

 

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Ah, the sensual delight of physical media. So nostalgic! My latest: Arnold's Lyrita Dances and Thorson's 4L, posted on July 23, 2020 at 18:57:18
jdaniel@jps.net
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Mozart concertos.

Another radio epiphany: the slow mov't of the 3rd in GM. Simple outlining of a triad again...I guess that's why Mozart's considered a genius.

The Lyrita Arnold Dances begins with Beckus and Dandypratt, and the opening reminded my why I can happily live without multi-channel. Immense, 3D soundstage. The Dances are worth

It's 1st on the TAS Lp superlist, which led some to believe it was the creme de la creme, when actually the list is/was alphabetical.

In any case, classic Wilkinson sound; charming, ingratiating compositions. "Honest Music", as Jim Sveda used to say. I haven't heard the CD, but the hi-res download, ($12.85 on sale at Presto) is a delight.

The Mozart VC's 3-5 made a splash for being the first DXD recording. It's on sale at Native DSD and all is very, very nice. I wouldn't say that it's the best recording I've ever heard, but it's above average and the playing is charming enough.

Great music for one's first cup of coffee.

 

I think you mean 2L?, posted on July 23, 2020 at 19:11:32
Chris from Lafayette
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I actually have that SACD of the Mozart Violin Concertos with Thorsen, but it had a track which got stuck in my old player. I should play it with my new player and see if it's OK now. OTOH, I'm tempted by the download at Native DSD because you can get it at native DXD resolution that way (rather than converted to DSD for the SACD). Also, I think the J-Fi Pentatone SACD's of the Mozart Concertos still hold a very high place too - I don't think I'd be able to choose between J-Fi and Thorsen. (I'll bet J-Fi is not happy she left Pentatone to go to Decca, where she seems to have crashed and burned!)

 

Thanks, I guess I have internalized quadrophobia that reared it's ugly head. nt, posted on July 23, 2020 at 19:39:27
jdaniel@jps.net
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.

 

Well, I warned you..., posted on July 24, 2020 at 07:09:50
Kas
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I pretty much agree with you, but it's hard for me to sit still through a recording with such dreadful singing in the two main roles, no matter how good the sonics are.

As for Ryan, he's actually far from the best we have. I've heard others who are at least acceptable - Simon O'Neill (on Elder's and van Zweden's cycles) may not have the most beautiful of voices, but he's at least accurate and reasonably musical. I also heard Andreas Schager sing Siegfried at the Met last year, and he was vastly superior both vocally and musically. I hope that he gets an opportunity to record the role.

 

The reason I asked my rhetorical question, "Is Ryan the best Siegfried we have these days?". . . , posted on July 24, 2020 at 13:03:36
Chris from Lafayette
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. . . is because he seems to be ubiquitous on recent recordings. Of course, I've heard neither the Elder nor the van Zweden cycles (not even excerpts), so I didn't know about O'Neil. And my enthusiasism for MCh sound could limit what I choose to hear (not that I don't listen to regular stereo or even mono every now and then). I'll be on the lookout for Schager in any case - thanks for the heads up!

 

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