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Thread: Ring cycle : Barenboim vs. Levine vs. Karajan oh my!

  1. #76
    Senior Member howlingfantods's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sonata View Post
    Thanks for your thoughts! The Karajan Walkure is outrageously expensive right now, so maybe next time I get a Ring album, I'll pick up Levine's Walkure. That or maybe I should finally bite the bullet and get Spotify Premium. 10 dollars a month and oh boy that should save me money within a couple of months.
    I'd stay away from the Levine. His Wagner recordings tend to be pretty dull--he strives for a smooth, uneventful sort of surface beauty in his Wagner, a strange artistic choice considering how vigorous and dramatic he is capable of being with other repertoire. Paired with his tendency to plodding tempi, Levine manages to make some very dull Wagner recordings.

    Barenboim can be accused of possibly being a little wayward (if you're a detractor) or maybe individual and unique (if you're a fan) but he's at least interesting. He seems to be striving for a best of both worlds union of Knappertsbusch's epic sweep with the post-Toscanini focus on precision and climaxes. It's not fully successful but it's my favorite performance in the pit for a Ring cycle in the long years between Bohm and Thielemann.

    I also disagree about the overall quality of the casts. Not that the Barenboim cast is great--there's no great Ring casts in the past 45 years--but I'd say the Barenboim is more enjoyable than the Levine by a significant margin. Siegfried Jerusalem is a mite small as Siegfried but he is probably the best Siegfried since Windgassen--very moving and by this point, he really inhabits the role. Goldberg was never Jerusalem's equal and is past his peak by the Met Levine recordings.

    Both Behrens and Evans are both essentially lyric sopranos undercast as Brunnhilde. I think Evans does a better job negotiating the role, but I don't consider either fully successful. Morris and Tomlinson as Wotan are both pretty strong points for each cycle but basically opposites--Morris is a few sizes small for the role and doesn't have the commanding presence you'd ideally like in a Wotan, but sings legato and with a lot of charm. Tomlinson has never heard of legato and isn't exactly ingratiating on the ear but sings much more vividly and has the weight and authority and the low notes to play Wotan that Morris just didn't really have.

    Jessye Norman sings beautifully as Sieglinde but she's totally miscast. She's so regal and composed, she never really adequately portrays the young, vulnerable, panicked, and ecstatic Sieglinde. Not that the Walsungs are that great in the Barenboim--they are sometimes a little approximate in their pitch--but they are dramatically convincing and better suited to their roles.

    Levine does have the superior Hagen in Matti Salminen. But Barenboim has a better Waltraute (the excellent Waltraud Meier), better Mime and Alberichs, and sad to say but a better Fricka than Christa Ludwig, a shadow of herself on the Levine at the very end of her career.

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    Wow, we sure do disagree on a lot of points. I'd give Jerusalem the nod as Siegfried, but I think Behrens is way better than Evans, and Morris is the best Wotan since Hotter. He has a commanding presence and sings with power and amazing tone. I also think Levine is thrilling at moments. I never understand the comments that he glosses over the drama of the Ring for the sake of beauty. They say the same about Karajan. I also don't see Ludwig's reading any less diminished than she was under Solti all those years ago. All in all we have several good to great Ring recordings. IMO Levine is one of them and Barenboim is not. Of the 20+ Ring recordings I have, I still return to Solti the most (by far).

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    Senior Member howlingfantods's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by gellio View Post
    Wow, we sure do disagree on a lot of points. I'd give Jerusalem the nod as Siegfried, but I think Behrens is way better than Evans, and Morris is the best Wotan since Hotter. He has a commanding presence and sings with power and amazing tone. I also think Levine is thrilling at moments. I never understand the comments that he glosses over the drama of the Ring for the sake of beauty. They say the same about Karajan. I also don't see Ludwig's reading any less diminished than she was under Solti all those years ago. All in all we have several good to great Ring recordings. IMO Levine is one of them and Barenboim is not. Of the 20+ Ring recordings I have, I still return to Solti the most (by far).
    It's difficult to respond to your replies since you don't really make arguments for your opinions except to say you like some things and don't like some others. I'll glean from your opinions (pro-Levine, Karajan, and Solti) that you like recordings that sound really good--these are some of the best sounding recordings--but care much less about musical architecture and dramatic detail and casting singers that vividly portray their characters. The singers you like, like Morris or Norman, sound really good, and you like them more than Tomlinson and Elming, who don't sound as good but are more dramatically vivid and fit their roles better. Which is fine, many other listeners have the same preferences.

    I care much more about musical interpretation, transitions, dramatically acute and vivid casting because frankly, the Ring needs that in order to not become boring background music in many of the long scenes of pairs of characters declaiming things at each other. In the right hands, the entire cycle is thrilling and gripping to hear. In the wrong hands, like Levine's, it's a pleasure to hear little bits and pieces, the stuff that would go in highlights discs, but the long passages--of Wotan arguing with Fricka and Brunnhilde, or Siegfried arguing with Mime--are terribly dull.

    Ultimately, I most prefer and would always recommend, those cycles that make you want to listen to the whole 15 hours, and not a couple of hours of various highlights. Levine's recording is just a slog.

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    Senior Member Sonata's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by howlingfantods View Post
    I'd stay away from the Levine. His Wagner recordings tend to be pretty dull--he strives for a smooth, uneventful sort of surface beauty in his Wagner, a strange artistic choice considering how vigorous and dramatic he is capable of being with other repertoire. Paired with his tendency to plodding tempi, Levine manages to make some very dull Wagner recordings.

    Barenboim can be accused of possibly being a little wayward (if you're a detractor) or maybe individual and unique (if you're a fan) but he's at least interesting. He seems to be striving for a best of both worlds union of Knappertsbusch's epic sweep with the post-Toscanini focus on precision and climaxes. It's not fully successful but it's my favorite performance in the pit for a Ring cycle in the long years between Bohm and Thielemann.

    I also disagree about the overall quality of the casts. Not that the Barenboim cast is great--there's no great Ring casts in the past 45 years--but I'd say the Barenboim is more enjoyable than the Levine by a significant margin. Siegfried Jerusalem is a mite small as Siegfried but he is probably the best Siegfried since Windgassen--very moving and by this point, he really inhabits the role. Goldberg was never Jerusalem's equal and is past his peak by the Met Levine recordings.

    Both Behrens and Evans are both essentially lyric sopranos undercast as Brunnhilde. I think Evans does a better job negotiating the role, but I don't consider either fully successful. Morris and Tomlinson as Wotan are both pretty strong points for each cycle but basically opposites--Morris is a few sizes small for the role and doesn't have the commanding presence you'd ideally like in a Wotan, but sings legato and with a lot of charm. Tomlinson has never heard of legato and isn't exactly ingratiating on the ear but sings much more vividly and has the weight and authority and the low notes to play Wotan that Morris just didn't really have.

    Jessye Norman sings beautifully as Sieglinde but she's totally miscast. She's so regal and composed, she never really adequately portrays the young, vulnerable, panicked, and ecstatic Sieglinde. Not that the Walsungs are that great in the Barenboim--they are sometimes a little approximate in their pitch--but they are dramatically convincing and better suited to their roles.


    Levine does have the superior Hagen in Matti Salminen. But Barenboim has a better Waltraute (the excellent Waltraud Meier), better Mime and Alberichs, and sad to say but a better Fricka than Christa Ludwig, a shadow of herself on the Levine at the very end of her career.
    Yeah, I heard the same said about her role as Elsa in Lohengrin. And while I understand the argument dramatically, I still love the end result of the sound of her singingo. So if nothing else, I definitely don't want to miss her interpretation, even if it's not the only one

    Probably the next "full" Ring I'm going to tackle is the Bohm. It's available on Amazon Prime. I know he's accused of conducting too quickly, which I usually don't like, but I his Tristan Und Isolde is my favorite of all so far so I'm interested in giving him a try!

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    Senior Member Sonata's Avatar
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    Regarding Waltraude Meier as Waltraute: Yes! I have heard her in a few different recordings (the one you mention, and Barenboim's Tristan for example) and I am really enjoying her. Another soprano I am liking in Wagner. I've not heard Kristen Flagstand in any decent sound recordings yet, but I hear she's another one worth listening too!

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    Senior Member Itullian's Avatar
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    This one.................remastered. most acts on one disc
    When all else fails, listen to Thick as a Brick.

    "Life's a long song, but the tune ends too soon for us all." Ian Anderson lyric

    "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." Hamlet

    "Man does not live by bread alone......"

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    Senior Member Sonata's Avatar
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    There may be a better thread for this, but as this is the most active Wagner thread, I'm going to stray off topic a touch: although it's still Levine-Ring related so maybe not so off topic.

    I just finished the Levine Walkure DVD (the more recent of his productions). I really enjoyed Jonas Kaufmann of course (yes I'm one of his many female fans!) and he and the Siegenlinde had good chemistry to my opera-video-semi-newbie's eyes.

    But what really got me was the scenes with Bryn Terfel and Deborah Voight. This really was Bruenhilde and Wotan's show. I always say that opera videos are really a niche hobby in my life. They tend not to impact me the same way they do others; where others enjoy the full experience (and I get that)but for me the everything else of a video makes it more difficult for me to focus on my true passion, the music. I've watched 10-12 opera films, finished maybe 8 of those, and was truly moved by perhaps three.

    This is one of those three. And I don't know that I've ever been so intensely emotionally impacted by anything in opera save the Senza Mama aria in Suor Angelica. The bond between a god and his favored immortal child...and his doomed mortal child. The torment Wotan goes through. Scene 3 of Walkure....I was nearly crying to see first his intense rage and the breaking forever of the bond, and finally the gentle quiet love that hasn't entirely left as they say goodbye.

    It was awesome.

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    Senior Member DavidA's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Itullian View Post


    This one.................remastered. most acts on one disc
    Must confess I've been disappointed with this. Either the recording is pretty flat or Bohm's reading does not allow light and shade. He seems to skate over the details of the score. And even the great Nilsson sings flat at times.

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    Senior Member Itullian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DavidA View Post
    Must confess I've been disappointed with this. Either the recording is pretty flat or Bohm's reading does not allow light and shade. He seems to skate over the details of the score. And even the great Nilsson sings flat at times.
    You do lose something with Bohm's faster speeds, but I like the excitement and I love that almost all acts are complete on single discs uninterrupted,
    Plus, I do make allowances for live recordings.
    When all else fails, listen to Thick as a Brick.

    "Life's a long song, but the tune ends too soon for us all." Ian Anderson lyric

    "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." Hamlet

    "Man does not live by bread alone......"

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    Quote Originally Posted by howlingfantods View Post
    It's difficult to respond to your replies since you don't really make arguments for your opinions except to say you like some things and don't like some others. I'll glean from your opinions (pro-Levine, Karajan, and Solti) that you like recordings that sound really good--these are some of the best sounding recordings--but care much less about musical architecture and dramatic detail and casting singers that vividly portray their characters. The singers you like, like Morris or Norman, sound really good, and you like them more than Tomlinson and Elming, who don't sound as good but are more dramatically vivid and fit their roles better. Which is fine, many other listeners have the same preferences.

    I care much more about musical interpretation, transitions, dramatically acute and vivid casting because frankly, the Ring needs that in order to not become boring background music in many of the long scenes of pairs of characters declaiming things at each other. In the right hands, the entire cycle is thrilling and gripping to hear. In the wrong hands, like Levine's, it's a pleasure to hear little bits and pieces, the stuff that would go in highlights discs, but the long passages--of Wotan arguing with Fricka and Brunnhilde, or Siegfried arguing with Mime--are terribly dull.

    Ultimately, I most prefer and would always recommend, those cycles that make you want to listen to the whole 15 hours, and not a couple of hours of various highlights. Levine's recording is just a slog.
    Yes, I like good sounding recordings, but I think the Keilberth '55 might be the best of the lot (stereo on) and the Krauss '53 is the best of the lot, period. I also like good singing, and I just find that to be so absent in the Barenboim recording. Yes he has a decent Siegfried and a decent Wotan, but Anne Evans is just a weak link as Brunnhilde, and that's a big problem. The sound is great on the Barenboim, but it's not my cup of tea. Yes Norman was miscast, but just as the naysayers say Janowitz was miscast on the Karajan recording, it's nice to hear different singers singing different roles. Norman has a big voice (yes, too big for Sieglinde) with beautiful tone, and as much as she isn't a naive, immature and scared Sieglinde, she's still thrilling to listen to. Morris has a voice that packs power with beauty, which I love. You can hear his love for Brunnhilde. His final passages in Walkure are perhaps the most beautifully sung Wagner on disc. The end of Act III in Walkure is probably what I listen to most, and 9 times out of 10 I call on Morris or Hotter (Keilberth). They, IMO, are the best Wotans from a vocal and acting standpoint on disc, bar none. At the end of the day, it's a matter of opinion. You have yours, I have mine. I listen to snippets of many of my Ring recordings (for various reasons), but the ones I will listen to the whole way through are Keilberth '55, Solti, Karajan and Levine. Overall, they are the best four (stereo on) IMO. It is my opinion that steering a newbie to the Barenboim as his/her first Ring is a huge disservice.
    Last edited by gellio; Nov-28-2015 at 23:06.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Itullian View Post
    You do lose something with Bohm's faster speeds, but I like the excitement and I love that almost all acts are complete on single discs uninterrupted,
    Plus, I do make allowances for live recordings.
    I like Bohm's faster speeds and his reading is thrilling at times. What is a shame is the sloppy playing by the orchestra and Theo Adam. It's well know that Wagner hated his works being conducted so slowly. Goodall is ridiculous. I rarely turn to the Bohm recording, but when I first got it, I loved it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by gellio View Post
    Yes, I like good sounding recordings, but I think the Keilberth '55 might be the best of the lot (stereo on) and the Krauss '53 is the best of the lot, period. I also like good singing, and I just find that to be so absent in the Barenboim recording. Yes he has a decent Siegfried and a decent Wotan, but Anne Evans is just a weak link as Brunnhilde, and that's a big problem. The sound is great on the Barenboim, but it's not my cup of tea. Yes Norman was miscast, but just as the naysayers say Janowitz was miscast on the Karajan recording, it's nice to hear different singers singing different roles. Norman has a big voice (yes, too big for Sieglinde) with beautiful tone, and as much as she isn't a naive, immature and scared Sieglinde, she's still thrilling to listen to. Morris has a voice that packs power with beauty, which I love. You can hear his love for Brunnhilde. His final passages in Walkure are perhaps the most beautifully sung Wagner on disc. The end of Act III in Walkure is probably what I listen to most, and 9 times out of 10 I call on Morris or Hotter (Keilberth). They, IMO, are the best Wotans from a vocal and acting standpoint on disc, bar none. At the end of the day, it's a matter of opinion. You have yours, I have mine. I listen to snippets of many of my Ring recordings (for various reasons), but the ones I will listen to the whole way through are Keilberth '55, Solti, Karajan and Levine. Overall, they are the best four (stereo on) IMO. It is my opinion that steering a newbie to the Barenboim as his/her first Ring is a huge disservice.
    Do you own or have you heard the Pristine XR remaster of 53 Krauss Ring? It is an amazing sound quality improvement over any other version, once you hear it there is no going back to Orfeo or old Opera d Oro release.......

    Pristine XR website has long audio sample from each opera


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    Quote Originally Posted by DarkAngel View Post
    Do you own or have you heard the Pristine XR remaster of 53 Krauss Ring? It is an amazing sound quality improvement over any other version, once you hear it there is no going back to Orfeo or old Opera d Oro release.......

    Pristine XR website has long audio sample from each opera

    I haven't. I'm hesitant because of the price and is it really that much better sound wise? I have been curious.

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    Was just on the Pristine website. Which option would one select for the best sound quality download? Flac? Is Flac just one single track for each of the operas? I wouldn't want that. Thanks for your help.
    Last edited by gellio; Nov-29-2015 at 00:26.

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    Senior Member DarkAngel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by gellio View Post
    Was just on the Pristine website. Which option would one select for the best sound quality download? Flac? Is Flac just one single track for each of the operas? I wouldn't want that. Thanks for your help.
    Yes the Pristine XR sound is much better than any other version you can buy, it will be very obvious.......

    FLAC is best sound quality download because it is lossless, same bit depth as CD format but you must have media player that reads FLAC file format, Windows Media Player and Apple I-Tunes require software update/conversion to enable FLAC playback......Apple has their own lossless format called ALAC

    I don't do the downloads, Gardibolt or other member here can perhaps give more info about the actual download process, he is a Pristine XR power buyer....

    You can also buy CDs in either finished jewel case or just discs and you print artwork and use you own jewel case for lower price which I do, takes about 3 weeks to get CDs (comes from France)
    Last edited by DarkAngel; Nov-29-2015 at 01:01.

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