Wagner: Die Walküre

Robert Markow
Opus (Canada)
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On and on they roll. Here are instalments in two more Ring Cycles in varying stages of completion. The Walküre from Australia initiates the latest to be recorded, while the Walküre and Siegfried from Bayreuth half a century earlier provide still further testament (appropriately enough, also the name of the label) to the Golden Age of Wagnerian singing, the likes of which no longer exist. All three sets are magnificent achievements, and every self-respecting Ringaholic will want (i.e., need) both Cycles, cost be damned (both sell at full-price).                                

The Adelaide Ring, given three times in November / December 2004, brought glory to the city and the country (Australia’s first home-grown Ring), and broke several records, including cost, as the most expensive theatrical event ever staged Down Under. The singing was uniformly good to excellent, the polished orchestra outdid itself in music these musicians had never played before, the theatrics were imaginative and tasteful. But above all, it was the conducting of Asher Fisch that made this Ring so special. It is not going too far to say that he ranks among the finest Ring conductors of our time.

Right from the opening storm music we hear how Fisch observes every dynamic marking in Die Walküre – every crescendo and diminuendo, every forte, piano and sforzando – while maintaining momentum and tension. This not mere pedantry; these details really make a difference. Tempos are well judged, climaxes are prepared so as to create maximum impact, rhythmic patterns are scrupulously maintained (a shortcoming of so many conductors these days), and ensemble is on the level of just about any of the more famous orchestras you care to name.  Even the argument between Wotan and Fricka, often an opportunity for a snooze in other productions, comes vividly to life under Fisch’s baton.

The other big feather in this Ring’s cap is Melba’s sound – truly sensational as befits the Australian label’s vocal namesake.  This marks the first time the Ring has been recorded on 6-channel SACD (Super Audio Compact Disc) used 64 tracks. The handsomely packaged product includes the libretto and Andrew Porter’s translation along with a thoughtful essay by Mike Ashman (“Love and the Law”) …