WAGNER: Die Walküre
Jonas Kaufmann (Siegmund). Mikhail Petrenko (Hunding). Anja Kampe (Sieglinde). René Pape (Wotan). Nina Stemme Brünnhilde). Ekaterina Gubanova (Fricka). Mariinsky Orch/Valery Gergiev, cond.
MARIINSKY SACD MARO527 (four disks) TT: 236 min, 36 sec

MOZART: Piano Sonata No. 10 in C, K. 330. Piano Sonata No. 11 in A, K. 331. Piano Sonata No. 12 in F, K. 332.
Noriko Ogawa, piano
BIS SACD 1985 TT: 76:00

RAVEL: Alborada del gracioso. Pavane pour une infante d´funte.Rapsodie espagnole. Pièce en forme de habanera. Shéhérade Overture. Menuet antique. Boléro.
Orchestre National de Lyon/Leonard Slatkin, cond.

Yet another Ring cycle, and this one promises to be one of the best. The Mariinsky Theatre's new production of Wagner's masterpiece has been rapturously received by critics both in Russia, London and other music centers. The production by Alexander Zeldin apparently is not visually offensive and it surely didn't cost $40 million as did the new Met production (REVIEW). The first issue in the cycle is Die Walküre, and it is a knockout, strongly cast throughout: I don't think there is a better Siegmund today than Jonas Kaufmann, and he well-matched by Anja Kampe who relatively new on the operatic scene but has been acclaimed for her Wagner and Strauss roles. Two Russians have leading roles, Ekaterina Gubanova as Fricka, and Mikhail Petrenko as Hunding; both are superb. Nina Stemme, now at her peak of performance, is a powerful Brünhilde—quite amazing—totally secure, and sensitive when called for. And René Pape's Wotan matches the best of the past. Gergiev's direction is not as impulsive as Levine's, but is never slack, and the orchestra is in top form. SACD sound is clear, resonant and well-balanced, with performers in front. This is an outstanding release in every way. I look forward to the other three operas, with the hope that this production also will be issued on DVD.

Japanese pianist Noriko Ogawa (b. 1962) has enjoyed a successful career both in her native country and England, and has appeared with many British orchestras. Her repertory is wide and recently she has been focusing on music of Japanese composers including Takamitsu, whose complete piano music she has recorded for BIS. Also for that label she has recorded Debussy and many contemporary works. Aside from an intriguing disk (which I haven't heard) of Wagner's arrangement of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 for solo piano, soloists and chorus, she has not ventured into "classic" repertory until this new disk of three Mozart sonatas recorded in England September 2011. Elegant performances by any standards, and beautifully recorded by BIS. Ogawa is to be commended for her work with charities and for founding Jamie's Concerts, a series for autistic children and their parents. I'm looking forward to hearing her recording of the Rachmaninoff concertos. Ogawa is a solid musician, well worth hearing.

Leonard Slatkin has enjoyed a successful career, primarily as leader of the St. Louis Symphony for 17 years followed by Washington's National Symphony; he is now music director of the Detroit Symphony and two years ago was appointed music director of France's Orchestre National de Lyon. He often appears with other major orchestras, and has made numerous recordings including much contemporary music. His tenure with the Lyon orchestra is represented on discs by their first issue, an unmemorable issue of Berlioz mentioned on this site (REVIEW). Now we have the first disk in a series devoted to music of Ravel, and it is equally unimpressive. Orchestral playing is adequate but not very inspired, and they are sabotaged by dismal sonics. The Lyon Auditorium obviously is a difficult venue for recording engineers, with little resonance and impact to low bass. Balances are askew, strings astringent—Ravel's lush melodies don't have much of a chance. The benefits of Blu-Ray audio processing don't amount to much when they have to contend with engineering such as what is heard here. These performances also are available on regular CD; I cannot imagine that format would make them sound better.

R.E.B. (February 2013)