Various Artists, "Wagner: Die Walkuere" (Mariinsky)
There's no shortage of classic recordings of the second and most popular opera in Wagner's four-part "Ring" cycle.
This new version -- first installment of a projected complete "Ring" cycle from the historic Mariinsky Theatre in Russia -- is a worthy addition, thanks to the rapturous sweep that conductor Valery Gergiev achieves with the orchestra and to the deluxe cast, headed by today's reigning Bruennhilde, Swedish soprano Nina Stemme. She has the warmth as well as the steely strength to embody the warrior goddess who learns compassion at the cost of her immortality. Bass Rene Pape brings his trademark silken smoothness to the role of Wotan, and if one or two high notes sound effortful, he more than compensates with his deeply felt interpretation as an unusually brooding and introspective god. Tenor Jonas Kaufmann and soprano Anja Kampe are just about ideal as the twins Siegmund and Sieglinde, while mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Gubanova is a plush-voiced Fricka who sounds at times uncannily like the great Christa Ludwig. The only slight drawback is bass Mikhail Petrenko as Sieglinde's thuggish husband, Hunding. He sings beautifully but doesn't sound quite menacing enough.
"Wagner: Die Walkuere" is a four-CD box set.