Wagner Siegfried Elder Hallé
Mark Elder, cond; Gerhard
Siegel (Mime); Simon O’Neill (Siegfried); Iain Paterson (Wanderer); Martin Winkler (Alberich);
Clive Bayley (Fafner); Malin Christensson (Woodbird); Anna Larsson (Erda); Rachel
Nicholls (Brünnhilde); Hallé Orchestra
HALLÉ 7551 (4 CDs: 261:47) Live: Manchester
Mark Elder and
the Hallé Orchestra here conclude an impressive and unlikely Ring cycle. When the project began, with
a similar concert performance of
Götterdämmerung in 2009, Elder played down the idea of a complete cycle.
Back then, the focus of his press interviews was the sheer magnitude of the
task of just one installment, the logistics, the expense, and, most
significantly of all, the musical demands made on the orchestra. But success
led to success, and 10 years down the line, we now have a complete Ring. Bar Rheingold, each opera was presented over multiple nights, with this
Siegfried presented over a weekend in
June 2018, acts I and II on the Saturday, act III on the Sunday. The benefit
for the CD listener is fresh voices and a fresh-sounding orchestra for the
final act, and standards are certainly maintained across this four-CD set, the
close as thrilling and atmospheric as the start.
well-known in the UK as an established Wagnerian, Elder has been poorly served
on record for his Wagner interpretations. He stood in at late notice for a Lohengrin with the Concertgebouw, who
went ahead nevertheless with an own-label recording (RCO Live 17002), but for
some reason the pieces didn’t fall into place. Similarly, a Parsifal with the Hallé (Hallé 7539)
received mixed notices, an aging John Tomlinson the weak link there. So, for
complete operas, this Ring cycle
would seem to be Elder’s only Wagnerian legacy on record—so far at least.
Fortunately, the whole project has been executed to a consistently high
standard, and the quality and distinctiveness of the results are largely thanks
to Elder’s personal contribution.
The Ring operas were all presented in
semi-staged performances, meaning concert performances in the Hallé’s
Bridgewater Hall, but with the singers coming and going, and interacting with
each other. I notice from a press photo that Iain Paterson, as the Wanderer,
wore a hat and eye patch, but that was the extent of the costumes and props. Elder
makes a virtue of the concert presentation; freed from the constraints of the
opera house, he can pace the music on its own terms, and tell the story purely
through the score. Throughout this cycle, his tempos have been steady, but this
isn’t grand or imperious Wagner, it is more about teasing out the details of
the score, and about giving all of the musicians, and particularly the
orchestral soloists, the space to inhabit the music. The dramatic flow is never
threatened, with Elder demonstrating an intuitive grasp of the structure and
pace of each act: The music-making always feels urgent, but never hurried.
criticism of this cycle, to which the Siegfried
is not exempt, is the feeling that the orchestra always comes first. The Hallé
sounds fabulous here, with excellent ensemble from the strings, palpable weight
from the lower brass, and characterful solos from the woodwinds. The orchestra
also includes a cameo appearance by horn player Ben Goldscheider, a recent
finalist in BBC Young Musician, for Siegfried’s Horn Call. He brings plenty of
character to it, and, again, Elder gives him plenty of space. The players are
well recorded too, the sound clear, vibrant, and involving. The singers are
well recorded, but they certainly don’t take precedence over the orchestra, and
it is easy to get the feeling that our attention is being drawn to the latter.
The packaging bears that out, with the orchestra’s name given first on the
cover, and the otherwise skimpy documentation including a full orchestra list.
star-driven Wagner then, so it is fortunate that an impressive cast has been
gathered nonetheless. There are no international superstars here, but, with one
glaring exception, all give convincing and satisfying readings, fully
commensurate with Elder’s dramatic but carefully paced approach. In act I, we
meet the menacing and dark-toned Mime of Gerhard Siegel, a dominating presence
whenever he sings. Scottish bass-baritone Iain Paterson is still in his mid-40s,
so is young for the role of the Wanderer. That comes through in a lightness of tone,
which may perhaps darken in the years ahead. Dramatically, though, he is ideal,
bringing all the necessary shades to this complex role. Act II is well served
by the light-toned Malin Christensson as the Woodbird and by Clive Bayley’s eloquent, if not overly bassy, Fafner. The best voice in act III, and
probably in the whole opera, is that of Anna Larsson as Erda. Hers is a deep
alto, warm and round of tone. She is perfect for the role, and this recording
catches her in her prime. Rachel Nicholls doesn’t shine quite as brightly as Brünnhilde,
but she too is well cast, with a bright and well-supported tone. She has a
heavily pronounced vibrato, but it feels right for the role.
If you haven’t
guessed, the big hole in this cast is Simon O’Neill in the title role. He is
just wrong for the part, his tone narrow and nasal and all his lines rendered
comical by his posh English accent (yes, I know he is from New Zealand). In
fairness to him, these are issues of style more than technique, and
technically, he is fine, consistently well supported and with excellent
intonation and articulation. And others clearly feel differently about him than
I do: He has been the Wagner and Verdi tenor of choice (at least when Kaufmann et al have not been available) at Covent
Garden, the LSO, and many other British institutions for decades. So, if on the
off-chance you do happen to be following his career, this is the first time he
has sung this opera, and, for better or worse, it is consistent with all his
previous Wagner outings.
own-label makes a policy of spending money on the sound recording and economizing
on the peripherals. So, true to form, this box set comes with a very brief
liner, printed on unlaminated paper, and just giving a track listing, synopsis
(without cue points), and orchestra list. The benefit is a budget price tag
that belies the quality of the recording itself. Recommended, then, especially for
Mark Elder’s insightful conducting and the vibrant playing of the Hallé, but
with a serious proviso attached about the Heldentenor.
This review appears in Fanfare magazine issue 43:1.
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