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Wagner: Das Rheingold

MusicWeb International (UK)
Göran Forsling

Half a year ago the first instalment, Die Walküre, in the first SACD Ring Cycle was issued and reviewers around the world lavished praise on it. What impressed me most of all was the superb sound with its wide dynamic range and its absolute clarity that allowed the listener to hear all the strands of the orchestral fabric. Surround sound added a feeling of actually being there in Adelaide Festival Theatre. Recorded during the same period, this Rheingold has the same sonic characteristics. Having been taped during actual performances some stage noises are unavoidable but by and large they are not very disturbing and the presence of an audience is only audible in the shape of some applause at the end.

Another feature of the Adelaide Die Walküre was the superb playing of the city’s Symphony Orchestra and the eminently sure-footed conducting of Asher Fisch, the hero of the recording. That is even more true of Das Rheingold. This is felt from the barely audible beginning of the prelude, which grows in a relentless crescendo up to the rise of the curtain. I presume there was a curtain in Adelaide; I have only seen a couple of stills in the booklet and these indicate that it was a very modernistic production. Fisch’s firm grip of the proceedings continues throughout this 2½ hour-long “introduction” to the Ring in a decidedly dramatic reading. The orchestral interludes are his true province and he revels in the stormy music (CD1 tr. 6) that takes us from the bottom of the Rhine to – at least in Wagner’s original concept – the mountain top where Wotan and Fricka are still asleep. This is indeed a masterly transition and would make perfect film music, accompanying a continuous camera-tracking. The wild descent to Nibelheim (CD1 tr. 21) is another orchestral tour de force, but most of all Fisch impresses through the constantly responsive and considerate support to the singers; reminding us that a purely orchestral Ring des Nibelungen would still be a riveting experience. Asher Fisch has to be counted among the front-runners of recorded Ring conductors. On the merits of the playing and conducting, this Rheingold definitely has a place in the top layer …

John Bröcheler’s Wotan is a well-known quantity … and he sings here with sturdy authority and occasionally with heartrending warmth and lyricism .... this is a fine reading ... The other survivor from the Walküre, Elizabeth Campbell’s Fricka, is deeply involved. She spits out her sarcasms with venom against Wotan … her sister Freia, Kate Ladner … characterises well the anguish when facing the prospect of being taken hostage by the giants ... Liane Keegan as Erda, has this and expresses the nobility of the Wala in her all too brief appearance, rounding off her warning to Wotan with an impressive meide den Ring! (“yield up the ring!”). Timothy DuFore is a vehement Donner, singing powerfully … Andrew Brunsdon’s Froh … is, as far as I can judge, a fairly lyrical voice ... Christopher Doig is an expressive Loge ...

Vocally it is the evil powers who are the winners in this performance. John Wegner’s Alberich is an especially impressive impersonation. He is an experienced Wagnerian, well-known also to Bayreuth visitors. His is a blackish heroic voice, very expressive. He makes Alberich a dangerous nobleman with nothing of the grotesque parodic elements often encountered in the part. After being captured and forced to hand over the gold he sings with such sorrow and pain that he invokes the listeners’ compassion. Even his curse is spat out with a certain dignity (CD2 tr. 11). I am really looking forward to hearing him in Siegfried and Götterdämmerung. Richard Greager is a splendid Mime – a dream role for a character tenor – and this is another impersonation that whets the appetite for Siegfried where he will get even wider exposure. Andrew Collis and David Hibbard are imposing giants ...

The presentation is in the luxury class with a 150 page hardback book including all the information one could wish. While not quite reaching the heights of Die Walküre this is still an impressive achievement and it is worth Wagnerians’ attention, especially for Fisch’s reading of the score, the superb playing of the orchestra and also for some better than average singing