There is a quotation from Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on the front cover of this set saying “Adelaide can be proud”. I would like to endorse that statement with all possible enthusiasm. After the glorious start with Die Walküre one and a half years ago the Cycle has proceeded along the same exalted lines… Das Rheingold… [I] found it impressive and Siegfried was a wholly engrossing experience that could compete with the best. There are three things in these Adelaide recordings that have received almost unanimous praise:
•The quality of the recording – this is the first Ring Cycle in SACD sound. In surround mode the realism is tangible and truly atmospheric, the clarity and pinpoint details of the orchestra and the dynamic magnificence overwhelming. The balance between stage and pit is what I would expect to hear from a good seat in an opera house...
•;The playing of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra , which places this ensemble on a par with the most prestigious orchestras in the world: luminous strings, warm woodwind and powerful brass – so important in Wagner and especially in this particular work.
•;The conducting of Asher Fisch. “Asher Fisch has to be counted among the front-runners of recorded Ring conductors” I wrote in my review of Das Rheingold and… this verdict still applies. With its heavenly length this drama is difficult to keep together and since it moves forward mainly at measured speeds there is always a risk of longwindedness. Fisch nevertheless has a firm grip of the proceedings and he makes the most of the purely orchestral moments which are quite numerous in Götterdämmerung. The Dawn music in the Prologue is mighty, the Rhine journey majestically surging, the Funeral march solemn but still defiant. The final flooding of the Rhine is magnificent and spectacular but also warm and touching with that wonderful string melody. As an orchestral Götterdämmerung this reading is a tour de force.
Vocally it is also in the main on a very high level. The chorus sing extremely well and the male chorus, who have the heaviest burden, are superb in the swinging chorus that follows Hagen’s summoning of the vassals (CD3 tr. 10). There is a good trio of Rhinemaidens and the three norns are highly expressive – something that is common to all the soloists. It is often one of the blessings of live performances where all the participants are involved in their roles and also have a director’s concept “built-in” into their readings. A special rosette should be awarded to Liane Keegan, whose contralto has depth and exemplary steadiness. I have already praised her Erda in both Das Rheingold and Siegfried and this is another feather in her cap. Elizabeth Campbell is another mainstay in this set, singing Fricka in the first two parts of the cycle. Here she returns for a short guest appearance as Waltraute, a role that Liane Keegan took in Die Walküre. It is a strong reading of the narration and there is real panic in her voice when she sees the cursed ring on Brünnhilde’s hand...
Her brother Gunther is sung by Jonathan Summers, who makes this character strong and hot-tempered, not the usual meek cypher. He has retained his full-bodied, incisive voice...
John Wegner is just as high-strung and neurotic an Alberich as he was in the earlier parts; one of the best and most dangerous of dwarfs on any recent recording; Duccio dal Monte makes his son Hagen a formidable character… his is a large voice with impressive bottom notes... at his best, as in Hier sitz ich zur Wacht! (CD2 tr. 7), he is by some margin the best Hagen of the last decade.
On the Walküre set the great find was tenor Stuart Skelton and on Siegfried it was tenor Gary Rideout as the eponymous hero. I had hoped to hear him as Siegfried here too but instead another American steps in… Timothy Mussard… is powerful, manly and with some sap in the voice... He has stamina and he is expressive… undeniably he has necessary power… is impressive in his own way and… gives a lyrical and expressive rendering of his narrative Mime heiss ein mürrischer Zwerg and a sensitive Brünnhilde, heilige Braut.
The crown of the whole performance is Lisa Gasteen’s Brünnhilde... as the drama unfolds she impresses more and more through her insight and her intensity. She tops everything else with one of the most glorious readings of the Immolation scene. Anne Evans on the Barenboim set is superb but falls short of the seemingly unlimited power of Lisa Gasteen. Birgit Nilsson, for both Solti and Böhm, is superhumanly strong and brilliant but lacks the warmth.
The 165 page hardback book with the CDs as an appendix is a luxury one doesn’t expect these days: full texts and translations, a deep-probing essay and a synopsis, biographies of the conductor and soloists and photos of them all plus some evocative colour-photos of the performance. Adelaide can be proud.
In my review of the Hänchen SACD set I advised prospective buyers to wait for this release. With hindsight it was a good piece of advice. Of the four Götterdämmerung from the 21st century that have come my way… each and every one has good things to offer. However Asher Fisch and his Adelaide forces definitely carry off the palm. Adelaide can be proud!