WAGNER: Der Ring des Niebelungen
Soloists, Chorus/Vienna Philharmonic Orch/Sir Georg Solti, cond.
DECCA BLU RAY AUDIO 478 6718 (1 disk in Deluxe Presentation Box)

MAHLER: Symphony No. 7 in E minor "Song of the Night."
Simon Bolivar Orch/Gustavo Dudamel, cond.

STRAUSS: Four Last Songs. Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40.
Anna Netrebko, soprano; Berlin Staatskapelle/Daniel Barenboim, cond.

In March 2013 Decca released their magnificent Deluxe presentation of Wagner's Ring des Niebelungen with Sir George Solti and the Vienna Philharmonic, and an all-star cast. It was very special, a collectors' edition with only 7,000 numbered copies—although I never could find the number of my set, which holds a place of honor in my collection. . The complete set and its contents were discussed at length on this site at the time of release (REVIEW). Now Deccca has issued a single Blu Ray disk, the same one included in the big set, containing the entire remastered Ring. This, too, is a luxurious big set included a synopsis of the plot, com. And there is a complete libretto in German and English. Remastering is amazing—these are superlative technical achievements in both performance and audio. This issue, or the larger Deluxe edition, should be in every collection. Thank you Decca for doing it right!

Gustavo Dudamel continues his Mahler symphony cycle with Symphony No. 7 in a live performance in Caracas March 20, 2012. The exciting conductor already has recorded symphonies 8 and 9 with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and No. 5 with the Simón Bolivar Orchestra (at the time with the added word "Youth."). This orchestra is first-class throughout, and doubtless there were more musicians in this performance than usually heard with a normal expanded orchestra. It is a pleasure to hear the rich orchestral sounds and top-notch playing, and the performance is imaginative and impetuous. I find audio disappointing and somewhat veiled, with important brass outbursts (particularly in he finale) subdued. Perhaps is DGG had issued this in surround sound the orchestra would sound more impressive, but the label, unfortunately, seems to be avoiding SACD.There are six SACD versions of symphony No. 7 five of which have audio superior to what is heard here. These are with conductors Nott (REVIEW), Mariss Jansons (REVIEW), Markus Stenz (REVIEW), Michael Tilson Thomas (REVIEW). and David Zinman (REVIEW). And my favorite is the incredible Bernard Haitink/Concertgebouw live performance which is available on DVD (REVIEW).

It seems rather odd that a soprano who for years specialized in coloratura and lyric roles would be switching to heavier repertory, but that's what Anna Netrebko has done, and with great success. This performance of Four Last Songs is beautifully and sensitively sung, without the unique qualities of my favorite interpreters of this magnificent music, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Jessye Norman, Gundula Janowitz, Soile Isokoski, and Lucia Popp (particularly the video with Solti). Over the years, Netrebko has had a close association with Barenboim reflected in a live concert featuring Russian music from Salzburg in August 2009, This new disk also contains Ein Heldenleben, a work the conductor recorded more than two decades ago when he was music director of the Chicago Symphony. This performance offers a leisurely view of the hero; even the battle scene lacks fire. Dynamic range seems restricted—surely this is not a recording to display scintillating sonics. The reason to acquire ths disk is to hear Netrebko. Complete texts are provided for the lieder..

R.E.B. (December 2014)