Monday, October 16, 2006

Böhm's Ring

In an earlier post, I mentioned that the Karl Böhm cycle from the '67 Festspiele was rereleased in the 1994 budget incarnation on Philips. I think that, elsewhere, I have made it clear that I sort of like this one. A.C. Douglas, who - often as not - provides the conservative Wagnerian opinion on most things Wagnerian, had this to say:

And that leaves the Karajan and the Böhm Rings, and they're both non-starters: Karajan because of his ludicrous and perverse conceit that Wagner should sound as lyrical as Verdi, and Böhm because, well, he simply doesn't much like Wagnerian Wagner, preferring his Wagner to sound more like Mozart on steroids and speed. Not cool. Not cool at all, especially for Ring virgins.

Fair enough. However, I thought I'd give it my spin. Böhm's Tetralogy repeats, in several key roles, the casting for Georg Solti's set. Replacing Hans Hotter with Theo Adam for the crucial Wotan/Wanderer role was a mixed bag. By the end of the recording process, Hotter had gotten woofy and a little wobbly*. However, Adam was not the Wagnerian bass-baritone that Hotter was. Don't believe me? Listen to the Walter/Seidler-Winkler/Vienna set or even the Keilberth Die Walküre from '55. At his prime, Hotter was a fine successor, though no equal, to Friedrich Schorr. Adam didn't quite have the heft or the nobility that a really excellent Wotan has. John Tomlinson, of recent years, is the only one with the power and the pathos. James Morris is boring. Three strikes right there.

Back to Böhm, though. His orchestral Konzept lacks a lot of the heft that echt-Wagnerian performances have. In fact, I'd call his Ring profoundly nervous. His tempi are fleet, though not so much as Pierre Boulez', ten years (give or take) later. Furtwängler saw, if his La Scala and RAI-Roma sets are any indication, the Ring as a grim, predestined mythic march to a bad end. Of all, Furtwängler had a sense of the world-mythic. Böhm seemed to see, though Wieland Wagner's Neu Bayreuth staging assuredly didn't help, the cycle as a psycho-drama. Like Hitchcock at his best, by the end, you're screaming for the tension. However, Böhm took it a step too far. Mozartean? Perhaps. Strained? Assuredly.

On that level, then, I like Böhm's set. Boulez, I see now, is just too fast. He tears through the music as though it were a particularly poor steak. You eat it fast just so the taste doesn't linger. Böhm has a purpose, but I don't think you can portray the Ring as a psycho-drama. It has its moments, but it - first and foremost - serves an archetypal function. Archetypes can have psyches (Hamlet, anyone?), but that isn't what they're getting paid for - rather the opposite, indeed.


*Not as wobbly, though, as the Wotan on Zagrosek's new Rheingold on Naxos. Pity, too, as the orchestral performance is good. Very good. However, a bad Wotan does not a good Ring make.

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