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Richard WAGNER (1813–1883)
Siegfried (1876)
Gary Rideout (tenor) – Siegfried; Richard Greager (tenor) – Mime; John Bröchler (bass) – Wanderer; John Wegner (bass-baritone) – Alberich; David Hibbard (bass) – Fafner; Liane Keegan (contralto) – Erda; Lisa Gasteen (soprano) – Brünnhilde; Shu-Cheen Yu (soprano) – Woodbird
Adelaide Symphony Orchestra/Asher Fisch
rec. Adelaide Festival Theatre, 16 November–12 December 2004
MELBA MR 301095-98 (SACD) [4 CDs: 79:47 + 73:40 +50:24 + 33:10]

The first Australian Ring cycle on CD – and indeed on any carrier – is being issued at a steady pace. It was recorded during live performances at the Adelaide Festival Theatre during four busy weeks at the end of 2004 and attracted a lot of attention for the stunning SACD Surround Sound. The listener is transported to the recording venue, the atmosphere fully caught and the orchestra’s magnificent playing faithfully reproduced in a well balanced production that gives the orchestra its full due while practically never swamping the voices. Stage movements sometimes inevitably upset the balance but on the whole it presents a well integrated sound-picture. More disturbing are the stage noises, atmospheric and necessary no doubt in some of the scenes, such as the forging of Notung, where the beats of the hammer are composed into the score. In some instances these are irritating when as a listener one can’t figure out what is going on. I am not going to make heavy weather of this since the advantages of live recordings often outweigh the disadvantages, creating a real feeling of the theatre.

Reviewing the first two instalments I praised the conducting of Asher Fisch as well as the superlative playing and I don’t withdraw a syllable of this concerning Siegfried either. It is true that he is sometimes a fraction slow – lax is too strong a word – at least in comparison with Lothar Zagrosek’s recording for Naxos which I reviewed recently and found much to my taste. There is compensation galore, however, not least in his handling of rhythms and the forward drive in key passages. Notung! Notung! Neidliches Schwert! (CD1 tr. 20), one of the central scenes, is for instance measured in tempo but the rugged rhythm, unbending as the rock, depicts the force and the overpowering determination of young Siegfried. The prelude to act two (CD2 tr. 1), dark and brooding, pictures the still sleeping Fafner. The wonderful high strings opening CD4 and leading over to Brünnhilde’s Heil dir, Sonne! has the right magical sheen and the jubilant final bars of the opera functions as a glowing exclamation mark. Instrumental solos are well handled and I must mention the hilariously out-of-tune English horn in act two, deputizing for Siegfried’s reed pipe and the notoriously difficult French horn solo, with not a hint of a fluff.

As for the singing I am happy to report that the high quality of Die Walküre is in the main retained here. Readers with good memory may recall that I wasn’t quite as enthusiastic about Das Rheingold, but here most is satisfactory. Richard Greager’s Mime has a strong personality, expressive, pointing his words, sometimes even verging on caricature. This Mime is however a really nasty character and without ever having seen him one gets a vivid picture of the dwarf. The supreme Mime of recent times, Graham Clarke, for both Barenboim and Haenchen, may have a more attractive voice but Greager runs him close. His brother Alberich is portrayed as uncommonly neurotic and high-strung by John Wegner and the dialogue between the brothers in act 2 (CD2 tr. 15) is a really heated affair.

David Hibbard’s Fafner is imposingly black and sepulchral and Shu-Cheen Yu is actually the loveliest Woodbird I have heard: lively and bright and warbling. At the other end of the female spectrum Liane Keegan is an excellent Erda, pouring out steady tone. I have admired John Bröchler’s Wotan both in the Haenchen DVD Ring and in the earlier instalments in the present one. He can be over-emphatic at times and as Der Wanderer he tends to shout and bark at climaxes, pressing his voice beyond its natural limitations. At the same time he has authority and there is some bloom to his tone and very little of the wobble many Wotans and Wanderers produce.

Lisa Gasteen was Brünnhilde also on the Zagrosek Siegfried and do I detect a slight deterioration in voice quality here? There may be a fraction more wear on the tone and hasn’t the vibrato at forte and above widened ever so little? Against that can be set unflinching power and also a great deal of sensitive warm-hearted soft singing – just try Ewig war ich, ewig bin ich (CD4 tr. 4).

The find, for me at least, is Gary Rideout as Siegfried. Here is that rarity: a basically lyric tenor, light-toned and able to sing honeyed beautiful cantilena – not the first thing one expects from a Siegfried! At his first entrance his tone is almost indistinguishable from Mime, but just listen to CD1 tr. 8, where he sings Da sah ich denn auch mein eigen Bild so beautifully and again on tr. 18, ca 2:00, Sonderlich seltsam muss das sein! This is youthful lyric singing of the highest order. Add to this power enough to make something out of Notung! Notung! (tr. 20), admirably steady, sonorous and with a romantic timbre that is very appealing. It isn’t that larger-than-life baritonal voice of Melchior but he reminds me a little of Helge Brilioth, Karajan’s choice for Siegfried in his Götterdämmerung recording. I heard him in Siegfried in Stockholm 35 years ago and he also compensated for any possible lack of heft with elegance, steadiness and youthfulness. In the long final scene, with the newly awakened Brünnhilde, he delivers heroic singing with warmth and beauty, clearly inspired by the soprano. It isn’t a flawless performance but so much is admirable.

The presentation is first class. The four discs come in a 160-page hardback book with full libretto and English translation (Andrew Porter’s from 1976), synopsis, an essay on the work and artist biographies. The layout is practical: acts 1 and 2 cover one CD each while the third act is a few minutes too long to be squeezed in on one disc; therefore the last 33 minutes, starting at Brünnhilde’s Heil dir, Sonne, are on the fourth disc.

I still retain my admiration for the Zagrosek set but this Melba recording is at least on a par with the Naxos, has a magnificent Fafner, a splendid Mime and Gary Rideout as the most lyrical Siegfried I have heard – at least since Brilioth. Better than any is the Barenboim set from Bayreuth, available both on CD and DVD, with Jerusalem, Tomlinson, Clarke and Anne Evans.

The bottom line still reads: With much inspired playing and singing and superb SACD sound this is a set that can be warmly recommended. Those who have already acquired the first two instalments need not hesitate.

Göran Forsling

see also

Richard WAGNER (1813–1883) Das Rheingold (1869) John Bröcheler (bass-baritone) – Wotan; Timothy DuFore (baritone) – Donner; Andrew Brunsdon (tenor) – Froh; Christopher Doig (tenor) – Loge; Elizabeth Campbell (mezzo) – Fricka; Kate Ladner (soprano) – Freia; Liane Keegan (contralto) – Erda; John Wegner (baritone) – Alberich; Richard Greager (tenor) – Mime; Andrew Collis (bass-baritone) – Fasolt; David Hibbard (bass) – Fafner; Natalie Jones (soprano) – Woglinde; Donna-Maree Dunlop (soprano) – Wellgunde; Zan McKendree-Wright (mezzo) – Flosshilde; Adelaide Symphony Orchestra/Asher Fisch rec. 16 November–12 December 2004, Adelaide Festival Theatre MELBA MR 301089-90 [73:03 + 76:05]

Richard WAGNER (1813–1883) Die Walküre (1876) Stuart Skelton (tenor) – Siegmund; Deborah Riedel (soprano) – Sieglinde; Richard Green (bass) – Hunding; John Bröcheler (bass-baritone) – Wotan; Lisa Gasteen (soprano) – Brünnhilde; Elizabeth Campbell (mezzo) – Fricka; Elizabeth Stannard (soprano) – Gerhilde; Lisa Harper-Brown (soprano) – Ortlinde; Liane Keegan (contralto) – Waltraute; Zan McKendree-Wright (mezzo) – Schwertleite; Kate Ladner (soprano) – Helmwige; Gaye MacFarlane (mezzo) – Siegrune; Jennifer Barnes (soprano) – Grimgerde; Donna-Maree Dunlop (soprano) – Rossweise; Adelaide Symphony Orchestra/Asher Fisch rec. Adelaide Festival Theatre, 16 November–12 December 2004 MELBA MR 301091-94 SACD [4 CDs 63:17 + 49:10 + 42:12 + 68:47]


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