WAGNER, R.: Der Ring (Orchestral Highlights) (Gunter Appenheimer/ Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/ Uwe Mund) (Naxos: 8.550211)
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Richard Wagner (1813 - 1883)
Orchestral Highlights from Der Ring des Nibelungen
Richard Wagner inspired in his contemporaries extremes ofreaction. For some his music seemed as misguided and repulsive as his anti-Semitism, whileothers were overwhelmed by the size of his ambition and achievement, to which everythinghad to be sacrificed. Wagner's career was in many ways thoroughly discreditable. Hebetrayed friends and patrons, accumulated debts with abandon, and seemed, in pursuit ofhis aims, an unprincipled opportunist. Nevertheless, whatever his defects of character, heexercised a hypnotic influence over his immediate followers, while his creation of a newform of music-drama, in which the arts were combined, and the magnitude of his conceptioncontinue to fascinate.
The tetralogy of The Ring,based on a conflation of Teutonic and Scandinavian legends, was originally conceived whileWagner was enjoying his first real success as conductor at the opera in Dresden, where Rienzi, The FlyingDutchman and Tannhaeuser werefirst performed. In 1848, with revolution in the air, Wagner began work on the poemconcerning the death of the hero Siegfried, a text that was to serve as the basis for thefourth opera in the cycle, Gotterdammerung.
In 1849 Wagner was forced to leave Dresden in haste. Hiscreditors had, in any case, made his stay there uneasy, but in 1849 he was implicated inthe rising against the monarchy, and escaped to Switzerland, leaving his wife behind. Thefirst years of exile brought the completion of the text of The Ring and its publication in1853, followed by the composition of the music of the first opera, Das Rheingold by 1854 and the second, Die Walk??re two years later.
The complete cycle, however, was performed for the first timeat the new Festspielhaus in Bayreuth in 1876. There, with the help of his young patronKing Ludwig II of Bavaria, he had been able to establish his own operatic kingdom,realising his revolutionary ideas of music-drama and investing the an of opera with asignificance and weight that it had not generally possessed before.
In July, 1882, the last of Wagner's operas, Parsifal, was staged at Bayreuth, running forsixteen performances under the direction of Hermann Levi. In September the composertravelled again to Italy, where an easier way of life seemed likely to be of benefit tohis health. He died in Venice in February, 1883, after a severe heart attack and was laterburied in the garden of his house in Bayreuth. His legacy to the world was an enduringbody of stage works and a festival centred on them, as well as continued conflict betweenthose fascinated by his achievement and those appalled by aspects of his character and hiswriting.
The allegorical story of TheRing, derived principally from the Nibelung Saga, concerns the conflict andstruggle for power between the Nibelung dwarfs, the giants and the gods. In Das RheingoldAlberich, the Nibelung dwarf, has stolen from the Rhine-maidens the Rhinegold, from whichhe has made a ring that will give him absolute power over the world. Wotan, the ruler ofthe gods, has employed the giants Fasolt and Fafner to build Valhalla, giving them Freia,goddess of youth, in payment. By a trick he seizes the ring and the Rhine-gold fromAlberich, who lays a curse on its possessor, and with some reluctance is persuaded to giveit to the giants, in return for the release of Freia. The curse of the ring is firstevident in the quarrel in which Fafner kills Fasolt for the gold and the ring. The operaends with the Gods entering Valhalla, watched cynically by Loge, god of fire, as theycross the rainbow bridge across the Rhine.
Die Walk??re deals with Wotan's attempts to arrange the defenceof his stronghold Valhalla. For this purpose he begets nine warrior maidens, theValkyries, who will bear the bodies of fallen heroes to the castle, where they will liveagain to aid in its defence. To kill the giant Fafner he begets Siegmund and Sieglinde,twins separated in early life and re-united as the second opera opens, with Sieglinde, married to Hunding, giving her brothershelter in her husband's hut. Siegmund is killed, in spite of the help of Br??nnhilde, oneof the Valkyries and Wotan's confidante, given against her father's command. She ispunished by confinement to a rock, surrounded by fire, to be released by a future hero.
Sieglinde is to give birth to such a one, Siegfried, son of Siegmund. The famous Ride ofthe Valkyries introduces the third ac t of the drama, as the Valkyries gather on amountain peak, bringing on their horses the bodies of fallen heroes. Br??nnhilde is tojoin them, bringing with her Sieglinde.
In the third opera Siegfried
forges once again the sword Nothung, destroyed when his father fought against Hunding.
With the treacherous Nibelung Mime he seeks out and kills Fafner and burns his fingers inthe dragon's blood. Putting his fingers to his mouth, he finds he can now understand thelanguage of the birds, who tell him of the hoard of gold and the ring in Fafner's cave,treasures that he now takes. Warned through the magic of the dragon's blood, heunderstands the treachery of Mime, Alberich's brother, and kills him. The birds are tolead him to Br??nnhilde. The orchestral passage known as Forest Murmurs precedesSiegfried's meeting with Fafner, as he rests under a linden tree and muses on the meaningof the song of the birds that he is later, through magic, to understand.
Die Gotterdammerung opens with a prologue in which the three Norns, the Fates,sing of the coming destruction of Wotan's power. Siegfried gives Br??nnhilde the ring andleaves her, leading with him her horse Grane, in search of adventure. His journey isaccompanied by the music for Siegfried's Rhine Journey. He is to be induced by a drug tobetray Br??nnhilde, from whom he seizes the ring, through the plotting of Alberich's son,Hagen, who finally kills him. Br??nnhilde has a funeral pyre raised for the fallen hero,and rides into the flames, having sent a message to Loge to see to the burning ofValhalla. The funeral flames rise, to be quenched by the waters of the Rhine, whichoverwhelm Hagen, as he seeks to take the ring, now returned to the possession of theRhine-maidens. The Funeral March closes the first scene of the third act of the drama,weaving together motifs from earlier in the cycle in the death of a hero that heralds thetwilight of the gods and the dawning of a new age of love.
Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava)
The Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava), the oldestsymphonic ensemble in Slovakia, was founded in 1929 at the instance of Milos Ruppeldt andOskar Nedbal, prominent personalities in the sphere of music. The orchestra was firstconducted by the Prague conductor Frantisek Dyk and in the course of the past fifty yearsof its existence has worked under the batons of several prominent Czech and Slovakconductors. Ondrej Lenard was appointed its conductor in 1970 and in 1977 itsconductor-in-chief. The orchestra has recently given a number of successful concer1s bothat home and abroad, in West and East Germany, Russia, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Spain,Italy, and Great Britain.
The conductor Uwe Mund was born in Vienna in 1941. He gave hisfirst concert as a pianist at the age of fourteen and two years later began his studies asa conductor and composer. He entered the University of Vienna in 1959, taking courses inMusicology and German Studies, with work in conducting at the Music Academy under HansSwarowsky, composition