WAGNER: Das Rheingold
Tomasz Konieczny (Wotan). Antonio Yang (Donner). Kor-Jan Dusseljee (Froh) Christian Elsner (Loge). Iris Vermillion (Fricka). Ricarda Merbeth (Freia). Maria Radner (Erda)l Günther Groissböck (Fasolt). Timo Riihonen (Fafner). Jochen Schmeckenbecher (Alberich). Andreas Conrad (Mime). Julia Borchert (Woglinde). Katharina Kammertoher (Wellgunde). Kismara Pessatti (Floshilde). Berlin Radio Symphony Orch/Marek Janowski, cond.
PENTATONE SACD 5186406 (2 disks) TT: 2:20:27

GETTY: Usher House
Christian Elsner (Edgar Allan Poe). Etienne Dupuis (Roderick Usher). Phillip Ens (Doctor Primus). Lisa Delan (Madeline Usher). Benedict Cumberbatch (Attendant). Gulbenkien Orch/Lawrence Foster, cond.
PENTATONE SACD 5186451 TT: 67:00

RAVEL: La valse. Mother Goose Suite. Tzigane. Boléro. Pavane for a Dead Princess
Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra Amsterdam/Carlo Rizzi, cond.
TACET SACD S 207 TT: 63:10

This is a brilliant Rheingold, the next in Pentatone's Wagner opera series and the first in their Ring Cycle. It is one of the most exciting Rheingolds you'll ever hear, primarily because of conductor Marek Janowski. His firm hand guided previous Pentatone issues of Parsifal, Die Meistersinger, The Flying Dutchman, Lohengrin and Tannhäuser. Janowski is not a new-comer to Wagner; he made an acclaimed recording of the Ring in the early '80s in Dresden with a fine cast, the first digital recording of Wagner's mighty opus. He has been music director of the Berlin Radio Symphony since 2002 and obviously this fine orchestra responds to him lovingly, with both beauty and power. The entire cast in this new recording is outstanding, particularly the Wotan. In recent years, Polish bass-baritone Tomasz Konieczny has assumed leading Wagner roles in many large opera houses. He can be seen as Mandryka in Strauss's Arabella, a recent Vienna State Opera production (REVIEW). He is a superb Wotan and doubtless this will become a signature role for him. The orchestra, too, is outstanding; it is difficult to believe that this magnificent performance was recorded live November 22, 2012. Engineering is state-of-the-art, perfectly capturing all of Wagner's rich sonorities and bursts of percussion. An outstanding issue, and I look forward to the remainder of Wagner's Ring in this intriguing new set.

Edgar Allan Poe's macabre short story The Fall of the House of Usher might seem to be a wonderful story as the plot of an opera, and American composer Gordon Ge tty has attempted to do so. He elected to have Poe narrate the story. Poe here is sung by Christian Else with Etienne Dumpish as Usher, an old friend of Poe's, Lisa Delan as Roderick's sister Madeline, and Phillip Ens as Madeline's physician. Alas, Getty's score is unmemorable and even in the final scene with its apparitions and deaths, there is little drama. All singers are excellent, but I imagine few if any opera houses would wish to present this work. Excellent sound. Getty's introduction and the complete text are provided.

What a pleasure it is to listen to the latest Tacet multi-channel recording! I have always praised the label's concept of surround sound being exactly that. I have no problem whatever with extreme directionality and have praised Tacet's surround recordings of Beethoven symphonies conducted by Wojciech Rajski, all reviewed on this site, dynamic performances with audio that places the listener right in the center of the orchestra. This new Ravel collection, recorded March/April 2012 in Amsterdam's Beurs van Berlage, is conducted by Carlo Frizz. He is best-known for his many fine opera recordings and collaboration with some of today's leading operatic celebrities including Anna Netrebko, Ramon Villazón, and Juan Diego Floréz. Rizzi leads sensitive Ravel performances here, and I like his slow Boléro. He and the fine Dutch orchestra luxuriate in the delicate sonorities of Mother Goose and the Pavane. It is unfortunate Tacet didn't include the entire Mother Goose ballet—there is plenty of rome for it. Serbian-born violinist Gordon Nikolic has a distinguished career as a concertmaster, soloist and educator and currently is concertmaster of the London Symphony. He gives a virtuoso performance of Tzigane. From an audio standpoint, this SACD is terrific, if not perfect. CD notes provide a chart for each work showing layout of the orchestra and location of each instrument (it isn't the same for all). I don't know how they achieved this aural effect; the single photo of the session shows the orchestra arranged as usual—perhaps they used spot mikes on each instrument? Regardless of how they engineered it, location of instruments is quite specific,—this surely is not the usual "orchestra in front" sonic approach. You are in the orchestra, and it is a thrilling experience There is much hall sound and always a resonant concert hall atmosphere. The sound picture is very wide-range (the opening of Boléro is almost inaudible), with rich low strings and much bass. The only sonic problem with this Ravel collection is that there could have been a bit more edge in upper frequencies—but this is not a great problem. Let us hope for more fine recordings like this from Tacet, pioneers in true surround sound!

R.E.B. (July 2013)