Simon Rattle's Rheingold at Aix Slowest on Record, Say Critics

Classic Arts News   Simon Rattle's Rheingold at Aix Slowest on Record, Say Critics
Wagner's Das Rheingold opened the 58th Aix-en-Provence Festival on July 2, marking the beginning of the Ring cycle whose four parts will be staged at four successive festivals. It is Aix's first Wagner, and it is also Simon Rattle's first staged Ring.

There was a lot hinging on Rattle's performance, in particular. The British music director of the Berlin Philharmonic has been berated by German critics of late for what they see as inadequately deep interpretations of the core Germanic repertoire and for tampering with the orchestra's trademark dark, lush sound.

Perhaps to allow himself plenty of time to demonstrate otherwise, Rattle chose tempos that critics present at the Aix performance described as slow. Alan Riding in The New York Times said, "Sir Simon chose an unusually slow pace — the performance lasted 15 minutes longer than usual — as if eager to dwell on the score's rich brass interludes and tellingly repetitive motifs."

Andrew Clark in the Financial Times approved of the orchestra's "masculine but ultra-sensitive sound," but added, "Rattle's Rheingold turns out to be a succession of 'exciting' incidents, so loosely held together that the performance pans out for a good 15 minutes beyond normal running time. I have never heard Wagner sound so slow and self-regarding. Rattle crosses every 't' and dots every 'I'."

For Bloomberg, Shirley Apthorp also pointed out the laborious tempos, writing, "Rattle took every possible chance to show off his orchestra's superlative tone. Beyond doubt, this is still the mother of all German orchestral sounds, a point Rattle hammered home by spending two hours and 45 minutes — considerably longer than even Herbert von Karajan — getting from start to finish. This was high-luxury, full-cream Wagnerian glory, stretched almost to the point of formlessness."

Agence France-Presse, however, praised the "sumptuous sonorities and precision" of Rattle's interpretation, adding that the Berliners' standing ovation was well deserved.

French director St_phane Braunschweig's controversial minimalist modern staging, which used video projections and featured Loge as a camp opera queen, also went down better with French critics than their foreign counterparts. Le Monde praised conductor and director for "their concern for jubilant clarity and tragic legibility."

The summer stagings at Aix will be followed by performances at the Salzburg Easter Festival.

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