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.
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 m 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.
it comes to the singing I am afraid I have to put forward some
reservations. About Die Walküre I wrote – which is also
quoted in the booklet for this set – “not a weak link among
the soloists”. Unfortunately there are several here. John Bröcheler’s
Wotan is a well-known quantity. He took the part also in Haenchen’s
Amsterdam Ring, released on DVD earlier this year (see review)
and he sings here with sturdy authority and occasionally with
heartrending warmth and lyricism, but he is also at times severely
strained and can be a bit unsteady. On the whole, however, this
is a fine reading, somewhat in the Tomlinson mould (Barenboim).
The other survivor from the Walküre, Elizabeth Campbell’s
Fricka, is deeply involved. She spits out her sarcasms with
venom against Wotan, but her tone is too often wobbly and acidulous.
This latter attribute also applies to her sister Freia, Kate
Ladner, who characterises well the anguish when facing the prospect
of being taken hostage by the giants. On the other hand this
lovely creature should radiate more warmth. 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 but
he is prone to press too much, which also mars Andrew Brunsdon’s
Froh. His is, as far as I can judge, a fairly lyrical voice.
I wish he could have retained those qualities in his solo Zur
Burg führt die Brücke (CD2 tr. 19), one of the most magical
moments in the whole cycle. Christopher Doig is an expressive
Loge but even he has his squally points.
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 and the Rhinemaidens are neither better nor worse than
most of their sisters on other recordings.
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.