Thursday, March 13, 2008

With a little bit of concentration...

George Grella, responding to my post expressing my distaste for Testament's integrale of the Keilberth Ring, makes a valid point,
With each of the separate recordings, I had the opportunity to spend many months listening to them, and they are tremendously listenable performances, really alive and musical and direct. They gave Wagner the chance to start to work his particular magic. Yes, like the other writer, I did pay more cash to buy them separately than to wait for the whole box, but the opportunity I’ve had to get to know the work has been worth the small premium.
I don't know that I necessarily disagree with that point, either.

I am not the sort of listener who hammers through a set at once. I am not implying that Mr. Grella is, either; in fact, I get the impression that he takes his time. With Wagner, especially in the Ring, you have to take it slowly. Miss one important plot point or any of the relevant Leitmotiven, and you're S.O.L. as we say here in Indiana. I generally approach a new set of the Ring (the complete set, as I'll get to in time) by listening to it once through, and coming back to it - either in certain passages or complete evenings. (Like Messiah, there are a few scenes that have to be absolutely right before I start throwing around the superlatives.) There is also a process of comparison and intense review.

For example, in the prelude to the second scene of Rheingold, as Fricka starts to wake up, there are some string runs underneath the brass work with the Walhall theme. Neither Pierre Boulez or Karl Böhm focuses on these to any great degree, which is to say that he doesn't really add emphasis, while Von Karajan (unsurprisingly) for a set known as the "Chamber Ring") and Lothar Zagrosek (on Naxos) do make them apparent. Did Wagner intend for them to be heard? Probably not, since Von Karajan brings them out, but they're something for which I listen.

Mr. Grella, I think, comes pretty close to making the point that - let's say - some of Wagner's intended orchestral magic needs to be reviewed and appreciated slowly and carefully.

It's never been about that for me, though. I am a believer in choice. If Testament, and I know it's a silly business decision, offered listeners a choice, then I wouldn't complain. I'll put it like this, don't give me coal and tell me it's a diamond. Give me both and let me pick. Buying the whole set wouldn't make me approach it differently. I would have listened the same way that I always do, but I would have done it at a different pace (i.e., not waited egregiously long before finally buying Götterdämmerung).

That's all.


At 11:15 AM, Anonymous Jeff said...

Let me add that I find CD pricing to be a little bit like buying an airline ticket. I've never quite figured it out.

I have lots of CDs and many of them are classical. It's always been a mystery how pricing can be all over the place. Some labels will charge $65 for a new opera with 4 discs and nice packaging and libretto. The next company will charge $55. I'm not sure it matters all that much, but it gets annoying.

I'm sure there is a 'supply and demand' factor weighed in their which is why the Toscanini’s recording of Die Meistersinger was running for around $80 in stores.

But, I'm not quite sure why some of these labels don't package the older recordings much like the Levine Ring I finally picked-up when the price was right (new on E-bay for $25 with no libretto). I'd rather have two or three cycles from Testament with no-frills, but well constructed, packaging, no libretto and 1/2 the cost. It seems to me they are being a little short sighted when the costs are so high...there are plenty of us out there willing to buy the music and not the marketing...


At 2:47 PM, Blogger Patrick J. Smith said...

I think that is largely my belief as far as packaging goes. Most of us have, or could get, a Ring libretto, and some of us won't read the liner notes.

The Barenboim set on Warner is my gold standard: decent packaging, all the libretti from the original releases, and the right price

At 8:31 PM, Anonymous peter b said...

Since you mentioned packaging, I had to get this off my chest...

The Bernard Haitink digital Ring CD cycle from the same time period as James Levine's is fairly middle of the road - not too good or bad, except for Theo Adam's nearly unlistenable Alberich.

On the other hand, the libretto - from the original release, not the recent no-frills budget reissue - is by far, by far the best of any CD-era Ring. The typeface is as legible as can be for a small book, and the translations are pretty close to line-by-line for valuable comparison with the German. Most importantly though, pretty much all the stage directions are there. So much of Wagner's stage detail is lost in the junk librettos most of the CD releases use - and many of them, from Solti to Janowski to Levine and (I think) Barenboim, use the same lame one.

My Wagner sickness is such I don't even need the libretto half the time now, but when I do I always pull out the ones from this set.

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At 7:22 AM, Anonymous Jeff said...

I'll add that IU University has all the scores online. A little work to move them to .pdf and a hefty printer and one is all set. There really is no substitute for having it all right there in front of you.

For those really gnarly German words I've simply penciled them into my hard-copy.


At 10:53 AM, Blogger daland said...

Of course the best and most authoritative source of reference for any kind of interpretation - particularly with Wagner - is the original score.

To your example of Rheingold’s second scene’s (Fricka awakening): the brass section (no horns) ends the first exposition of the Walhall theme in Aflat and notation pp (pianissimo). The tempo is 3/4, and we have now two bars where the Aflat chord is played by the brass with crescendo... to the f (forte) of the next chord, that precedes Fricka’s call “Wotan, Gemahl! erwache!”. In the last four crotchets of those two bars the harps 1 & 2 (not any string) play (p, piano) four ascending triplets as follows: Aflat-Eflat-Aflat, C-Eflat-Aflat, C-Eflat-Aflat, C-Eflat-Aflat. This is clearly an extended variation of the Primeval Nature motive (the one played by the 8 horns in the Prelude...)

Now, each of us can give his own explanation of why Wagner recalls here this motive, and I won’t insist on any. From the interpretation (that is the subject of this post) we have, in those two bars: the brasses starting pp and making a crescendo to f; and the harps always playing p (but they start on the third crotchet of the first bar). No doubt then that at the end the harps should be in background, therefore hardly audible... but at least their first two triplets should be at the same loudness of the brasses.

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