Monday 18 August 2008

René Pape with Gods, Kings and Demons solo CD: Predictably superb

This debut solo-CD from 43-year old German bass René Pape includes arias from some of his major current and (some at least) future roles, modeled on George London’s 1952 recital ”Gods and Demons” with the addition of ”Kings”.

René Pape repeatedly makes a point of describing himself as a basso cantante in the tradition of Ezio Pinza and Samuel Ramey, with only agree to a limited extent. Obviously, René Pape is light-years from traditional German/profundo basses such as Gottlob Frick, Boris Christoff and Martti Talvela, a fact that several, in particular German, music critics for some obscure reasons still have managed not to discover.

René Pape is a high bass on the verge of, but not, in my opinion a bass-barytone, though his astonishing top notes make the bass-barytone parts well within his reach. His voice is extraordinarily beautiful, he is in complete technical control over the entire range, the top notes are fearless, the diction exemplary and very importantly he always emphasizes characterization over sheer beauty. But the fact remains that the velvety beauty and plain nobleness of the voice sets him apart from the traditional basso cantantes, despite his impressive versatility being widely acknowledged as the foremost living interpreter of parts as diverse as Sarastro, King Marke and Mephistophéles.

Thus, despite his excellence in this wide repertoire, this CD clearly documents that René Pape´s true greatness lies in the heroic bass-(barytone) parts of Richard Wagner, which he seems born to sing. Indeed the distinct nobleness of the voice, combined with his commanding presence must be everything Richard Wagner has ever wished for. From an artistic point of view, nothing would be easier for René Pape than to commit himself entirely to this repertoire, and he shows genuine artistical courage by refusing to do so.

However, though represented only by the rather short “Abendlicht strahlt der Sonne Auge“ (explained bya an upcoming Wotan/Hans Sachs CD with Christian Thielemann) it is plainly obvious that René Pape is the Wotan everyone has been waiting for as long back as memory goes. It has been speculated he will be the best Wotan since Hans Hotter. In fact he will most likely surpass Hans Hotter. The glorious nobleness of the voice, the legato-lines, the phrasing... On stage René Pape will appear as Wotan in 2010 with long-time collaborator Daniel Barenboim.

Based on René Pape´s somewhat lofty appearance one may question whether he really is capable of conveying the entire emotional range of the more complex characters. Parts such as King Marke, King Filippo but perhaps most of all Boris Godunov, clearly demonstrates that he is. Many will know his bench-mark interpretation of King Marke, a part he has genuinely taken to another level and also Filippo (both represented here), but he is a shattering Boris Godunov as well, which he will repeat at the MET in a couple of seasons. Here unfortunately only with the Death scene excluding the ”I have attained power” monologue, which by the way may be seen here.

Artistically, René Pape is surprisingly close to Ezio Pinza (the great Italian basso cantante from the 1930-40´s) in both phrasing and expression - particularly evident as Don Giovanni, which unfortunately is not represented here. But also as Mephistophélés, though Pinza is more roguish and with more edge.
Both the underlying malevolence of Mephistopheles Serenade as well as the forceful Veau d´Or (both from Faust) are here. From the Berlioz´ Devil we get the Serenade and Voici des roses. And Ecco il mondo from Boito´s. All sung in such a beautiful voice, and with such smooth lines that you´d almost not believe these to be the real villains. But the undercurrent malevolence clearly reminds us that they are.
Of the Devils, René Pape has only portrayed the Gounod-Méphistophéles on stage. The Scintille Diamant (Tales of Hoffmann) may be heard in 2009 at the Metropolitan Opera. The rarities are represented by two arias from Rubinstein´s The Demon.

Nothing much new in the sleeve notes for those already familiar with René Pape – a rehash on his East-German upbringing (Dresden), career (primarily at the Berlin State Opera and Metropolitan Opera) and roles. Keeping things politically correct, for once he doesn’t mention his smoking. I wonder why the Water Demon in Rusalka is described as “malevolent”, though. I also wonder whether this is really a part he intends to sing on stage. And whether he will at some point risk some of the higher-lying Italian parts, such as Scarpia. Though in this respect The Dutchman must surely be a first choice.

Had he been a tenor he would have been of Plácido Domingo-fame, a fact that René Pape is not entirely immune to himself, stating one of the purposes of the CD to be ”a little bit educational”, in that he wants to remind people that sopranos and tenors don’t have the monopoly on beautiful arias. From an artistic point of view these things, of course, are entirely unimportant. However, one is only human after all…

René Pape could have recorded a solo-CD years ago with an obscure orchestra on an independent label as several other of his contemporaries have done. Tactically, however, I am convinced he has made the right choice waiting for a contract with a major label. Which comes with first rate support from the Dresden Staatskapelle and Sebastian Weigle.
If any singer today deserves recognition in an even wider audience it is René Pape.

Indeed, I cannot recommend this highly enough. If you buy only one CD this year, make it this one.

It may be downloaded directly from the DG webshop at about half the retail price. Further information as well as sound examples here.

The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):



Parsifal said...

6??? Hahahahaah, you're such a groupie!!!

Anonymous said...

Actually, I must object to the low rating you've given the album. This one goes to 11.

Parsifal said...

I ve been listening to it the last couple of days. At the begginning i thought "No big deal, what's the fuss all about?". Then I listened to it while driving about 30 times in a roll (repeating about 1.000 times the Godunov piece and the Veau d' Or). Now I'm totally addicted to it. I have left copies of it in the car, at the office, in the living-room cd-player, everywhere. So, instead of mocking you for being a groupie I say: Parsi is a groupie too, René Pape rocks.

Anonymous said...

Apparently this album will not be released in the US until November! What a disappointment. I suppose I could download it, but for critical recordings I prefer to have the CD. Oh well ...

mostly opera... said...

gandharva - they want to time the release with his King Marke at the MET ultimo November as I´ve understood it.

curzon said...

Hmm. On first listening (and I haven't quite finished yet) I have to confess to a slight (and surprising) feeling of disappointment. We have waited so long for a recital from this superb artist that maybe expectations were always going to be pitched too high.
Of the Mephistopheles excerpts my favourite is actually the Berlioz. The Boito is good but it doesn't quite have the excitement of Ramey in his prime.
Filippo's aria/scena is beautifully paced and the arc of emotions is intelligently traced. But...but I have to confess to guiltily wishing for that last level of luxurious and overwhelming voice that Ghiaurov (for me still unmatched) brought to this scene in the underrated Solti recording. Having said that I doubt anyone around today could match Pape in this role.
For me the essential niggling doubts are brought into stark focus the moment Pape hits the german rep. Immediately one senses that both artist and voice are totally at home. The Wotan excerpt is perhaps (inevitably at this stage) slightly generic and the top notes do not yet have the lustre that he will no doubt achieve when he has "placed" his voice for this role (Only another couple of years!!I can hardly wait!) but Marke's agonised monologue shows him at the top of his game. One gripe here though - we already have one cd and two dvd recordings of him in this role. Why not some his (as yet) unrecorded Guernemanz?
The Dapertutto aria is good except the final note which doesn't have quite the cut and gleam that Terfel, Ramey or Van Dam bring to it. Still the legato line is superb.
More impressions later when I have finished the Demon excerpts and listened through again.


mostly opera... said...

Well I agree with many of your points, which were too detailed to bring up in the review:

Firstly, I completely agree that the Berlioz-Mephistopheles is the most suitable of the three Devils for RP´s voice.

The ultimate sharpness in voice, that made Samuel Ramey and Ezio Pinza so perfect in this repertoire, RP will never never have and furthermore his voice has this undefinably noble quality. Actually Ecco il mondo is the least suitable Mefistofele aria for RP - I had hoped he would have chosen the other one (I´ve forgotten the name). And yes, he does not beat Samuel Ramey in his prime here, imo.

Ghiaurov I have simply never taken to, no matter what he sings.

Agreed, he hasn´t placed the topnotes for the Wotan-excerpts (the same applies to Leb Wohl)- thought it would be rather unfair to mention it, all things considered, but I do agree.

Re: Gurnemanz - the only suitable solo excerpt would be the 20 minute 1st act narration, imo less suitable for inclusion on CD. However his "gesegnet..." from Act 3 is one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard.

For what it is worth he could also have changed the Rusalka aria with Prince Igor or Khovanshchina, which he apparently intends to sing before not too long...

Anonymous said...

I recently bought this CD having been a recent fan of RP's (well 2-3 years) and I thought it was wonderful. I agree with mostly opera that berlioz's faust is the best for RP. I wanted to say that it was the two Rubinstein arias that astounded me the most. King Marke, Filippo II I have heard before by RP and of course it's always a treat to hear him sing it....but the sheer beauty of RP's voice on the two rubinstein arias just blew me away. When I only have time to listen to just one song from this CD, I invariable choose the from those two arias. Bravo RP, long may you reign as the best bass in the world!!

Anonymous said...

please write out 100 times: I should write 'baritone' not 'barytone', otherwise people will think I am ignorant

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