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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
The Ring - an orchestral adventure (arr. Henk de Vlieger (b. 1953)) (1991) [60:19]
Siegfried Idyll (1870) [15:09]
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Neeme Järvi
rec. 5-7 August 2007, Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow
CHANDOS CHSA5060 [75:42]
Experience Classicsonline

This is a hybrid in more ways than one; not only does it offer both CD and SACD playback, it also eschews the usual ‘bleeding chunks’ in favour of a single, hour-long work. It’s not a new idea – Lorin Maazel has done it in The Ring Without Words (Telarc CD-80154) – but I was still curious to hear de Vlieger’s take on Wagner’s tetralogy.
In his liner-notes Maarten Brandt details the Dutch composer-percussionist’s approach to this work. In essence it is conceived as a four-part symphony, with each opera forming one of the ‘movements’. For example, Das Rheingold starts with the prelude and ends with the ‘Entry of the Gods into Valhalla’.
Perhaps the best clue to the work’s intended audience lies in its subtitle ‘an orchestral adventure’, which surely implies a degree of accessibility. No doubt there are many listeners who prefer ‘highlights’ to the entire epic, and I suspect this recording is aimed squarely at them. At this point initiates will probably mutter darkly about ‘dumbing down’, but for the uninitiated this disc does at least offer a potential gateway to Wagner’s potent mythical universe.
This recording also marks Conductor Laureate Neeme Järvi’s return to both Chandos and the orchestra with whom he made some excellent recordings in the 1980s. Many of these – the Richard Strauss and Prokofiev cycles in particular – are still highly regarded today. But is this ‘adventure’ the best way to celebrate the renewal of old partnerships?
It’s clear from the magical prelude to Das Rheingold that the orchestra is in fine fettle, weighty and thrustful. Although the recording is less sumptuous than usual orchestral detail is excellent and tuttis bloom naturally, with no hint of strain or grain. Add to that the presence of maestro Järvi and the omens are very promising indeed.
So why doesn’t it work? Try as I might I simply could not engage with this watered-down Wagner. As an orchestral exercise it has its moments but listeners hoping for a sonic or musical tour de force will be bitterly disappointed. And despite all the usual excerpts the work has far too many ‘flat spots’ to make a convincing, unified whole.
At least in the ‘bleeding chunks’ each piece has its own clear dramatic structure and with the help of concert endings they tend to work very well on their own. Here de Vlieger has to deal with a much longer span – 60 minutes or so – and I’m afraid the edifice sags in far too many places. Frankly, if you like Wagner without a whiff of tedium you’d be better off with excerpts from the likes of George Szell on Sony Classics (if you can find it) and Klaus Tennstedt on EMI and the LPO’s own label. These visceral, highly dramatic performances – not the persistently undernourished and underwhelming de Vlieger arrangement – are where the Wagnerian adventure really begins.
The Siegfried Idyll, the composer’s birthday present to his wife Cosima, is light of tread and tender of heart. It was always intended to be a private work, full of intimate allusions, so it’s not surprising there is none of the love-as-destruction we encounter in Tristan, for instance. What is surprising, though, is Järvi’s rather roughshod reading of the piece. It simply lacks the poise and delicacy this occasion demands. That said the playing of the RSNO is wonderful in places, a tantalising glimpse of what might have been.
So, while I’m delighted Järvi is back with the RSNO I really can’t celebrate their new disc. Stick with the excerpts if you want an introduction to The Ring; and if it’s the Idyll you’re after there are plenty of more persuasive versions out there. I can only hope the next instalment in this rekindled partnership has more fire than this.
Dan Morgan


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