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Conductor Marek Janowski’s recording of The Ring has already been released by classical music label Pentatone on SACD in June 2016, in a lavish presentation box containing 13 discs plus a detailed if cumbersome 250 page book; it is also available on Pentatone’s website to download, should you prefer to avoid all the trappings and some of the expense. Now, as their head of marketing, PR and sales, Silvia Pietrosanti, explains, Pentatone is making the set available for streaming ‘to break free from the constraints of the physical format’.

An initial batch of Janowski’s Wagner recordings has already been streamed and The Ring follows suit, meaning that you can experience the whole Gesamtkunstwerk uninterrupted and chronologically. Pentatone particularly prides itself on the quality of its recorded sound and describes streaming as a ‘true platform’, adding that it ‘wants to set the standards of how works can be presented for streaming, breaking barriers of time limitations and “forced pairing” of albums’ format or concerts’ set-ups’. So is this particular interpretation one that the consumer should gravitate towards, considering a crowded market of studio, live and pirate recordings, with all the allegiances and passions that already exist when it comes to Wagner, The Ring and the wealth of great artistry already available?

A big plus is Janowski’s conducting. This Rhine flows swiftly and cleanly, so if you prefer the expansive qualities of a conductor such as Goodall you may find things a bit rushed, though I would prefer to think of things as pacey. The performances are recorded live in concert at the Berlin Philharmonie, 2012-13, so the orchestra is not hidden in a pit but is onstage, allowing Janowski to focus on the purely instrumental side as much as the vocal – solo instrumental lines are forward and take their place against the musical texture. The Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester Berlin plays like a well-oiled machine for their conductor and the big moments are thrillingly realised. Janowski’s sense of propulsion, balanced against the immense scale of the work, ensures that he never lets the musical flow falter or meander, though he balances this against a sense of the structure of the whole. It is highly accomplished and exciting work.

Where you may opt in or out of this particular performance is the cast. No Ring Cycle could ever please on all accounts, but there is much variation here. Wotan is Tomasz Konieczny, whose baritone encompasses the vocal demands with relative ease and attractive tone. About 40 years old when recorded here, he is a youthful Wotan, so the more world-weary aspects of the character come less naturally. Nevertheless, he is a major asset. Also strong are the fresh-voiced Siegmund of Robert Dean Smith and Stephen Gould’s Siegfried, though the latter doesn’t sound overly young. Jochen Schmeckenbecher proves an effective vocal actor as Alberich, without going over the top; and Andreas Conrad and Christian Elsner are good as Mime and Loge. There is the luxury of appearances from Günther Groissböck (Fasolt), Timo Riihonen (Fafner), Maria Radner (Erda), Edith Haller (Gutrune), Markus Brück (Gunther) and Marina Prudenskaya (Waltraute).

Perhaps less thrilling are Petra Lang’s Walküre and Götterdämmerung Brünnhildes. She has the stamina and solid middle voice, with some good lower excursions. But although she hits all the notes above the stave (once over her slithered hojotohos) the voice lacks either radiance or thrill. It never scythes through the orchestra or rides with a plush sound atop it. Consequently she remains earthbound. Violeta Urmana’s Siegfried Brünnhilde also remains earthbound. Melanie Diener has a soprano that suits Sieglinde, but sometimes turns very flat as she ascends. The Götterdämmerung Siegfried, Lance Ryan, is not an asset. All in all a mixed blessing, but definitely worth hearing for Janowski’s mastery.

Francis Muzzu Read the full review on Agora Classica

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