The production of a new Ring at the Bayreuth Festival is an event that takes place every six years. Bayreuth recordings of the complete cycle are rare; this is only the third official audio recording and the second filmed version. The Kupfer/Barenboim Ring was performed over a five-year period and recorded at the conclusion when the "Bayreuth Workshop" had raised "the quality of the performance to an almost unsurpassable level".
There are few composers who have vanished from music history to the extent of Johann Abraham Schmierer. We know very little about this composer’s origins, education, career and life journey. Some listeners, during or after hearing this recording, may well wonder why this music – despite its undeniable qualities and relatively early publication (already in 1902 in the tenth volume of Denkmäler Deutscher Tonkunst) – has not been recorded earlier. One reason is surely the fragmentary character of the collection, for six suites are obviously missing.
Under the baton of James Levine, Gotterdammerung ("The Twilight of the Gods") has a narrative drive that reminds us that, of all the individual operas in Wagner's Ring cycle, this is the one most about human emotions and the one in which its heroes are pulled into a world where they are most vulnerable to them. Siegfried Jerusalem as Siegfried and Hildegard Behrens as Brunnhilde never, in a sense, stand a chance: they are innocents who allow themselves to be manipulated not merely by the villainous Hagen, but by the ordinary venality of Gunther and his sister Gutrune, who goes along with a dirty little scheme to get what she wants, and is destroyed by it.
James Levine makes Siegfried, sometimes the problem child among the four operas of Wagner's Ring cycle, attractive and interesting. He is aware of the darker side of some of the comic scenes–the seemingly benevolent dwarf Mime carries the weight of Wagner's many prejudices–but manages to keep them uneasy rather than positively sinister thanks to the finally judged performance of Heinz Zednik. Siegfried Jerusalem is admirable as Siegfried, full of boyish enthusiasm during the reforging of the sword, and of authority in his confrontations with the dragon and with Wotan. (The dragon itself is, as so often, an unfortunate compromise between realism and stylisation.) James Morris is extraordinary in Wotan's scenes here, his combination of injured pride and relieved joy when Siegfried demonstrates, by shattering his spear, that Wotan has entirely lost control of events is exemplary.