Richard WAGNER (1813–1883)
Götterdämmerung (1876)
Lars Cleveman (tenor) - Siegfried; Peter Coleman-Wright (baritone) - Gunther; Attila Jun (bass) - Hagen; Andrew Shore (bass) - Alberich; Katarina Dalayman (soprano) - Brünnhilde; Nancy Gustafson (soprano) - Gutrune; Susan Bickley (mezzo) - Waltraute; Ceri Williams, Yvonne Howard, Miranda Keys – Norns; Katherine Broderick, Madeleine Shaw, Leah-Marian Jones - Rhinemaidens
Hallé Choir, BBC Symphony Chorus, London Symphony Chorus, The Royal Opera Chorus, Extra Chorus
The Hallé/Sir Mark Elder
rec. live, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, 9-10 May 2009
HALLE CDHLD7525 [5 CDs: 55:02 + 67:16 + 70:48 + 44:02 + 46:56]
HALLE CDHLM7530 MP3 Edition [320 kbps]

Selected comparisons:-

Böhm/Bayreuth FO, rec. live 1967 (Philips 4460572)
Keilberth/Bayreuth FO, rec. live 28 July 1955 (Testament SBT41393)
Keilberth/Bayreuth FO, rec. live 14 August 1955 (Testament SBT41433)
Knappertsbusch/Bayreuth FO , rec. live 1951 (Testament SBT4175)
Barenboim/Bayreuth FO, rec. live 1992 (Teldec 4509941942)


Krauss/Bayreuth FO, rec. live 1953 (Opera D’Oro ODO 1500)

Immolation scene
Flagstad/Furtwängler/PO, rec. live 1950 (Testament SBT1410)
Traubel/Toscanini/NBCSO, rec. live 1940 (Guild Historical GHCD2242-43)

Final scenes
Goodall/Sadler’s Wells, rec. studio 1972 (Chandos CHAN6593)
Respect where it is due. Hallé musicians radiate talent and dedication in achieving such luminous, transparent playing. Imagine the hours of section and full rehearsals for the saturated colours and singing lines in this epic live Götterdämmerung! Strings in the opening sunrise shimmer and flow into life-filled playing, opening naturally into Brünnhilde’s waking lines, delivered as if arms are stretching outwards and sleepy-dust wiped from eyes. Basses, timpani and tubas deliver splendid, rich weight. For Siegfried’s Rhine journey trumpets cap orchestral waves with colour, never strident as the Bayreuth upper brass could sound for Keilberth. And let’s hope engineer Steve Portnoi gets lots more work on the basis of this recorded sound. Balances give the Hallé glorious depth, a sense of ‘air’ and hall, with voices clear and slightly forward, as Wagner intended. A quibble is that the magnificent massed choirs in Act II sound like a heavenly halo of voices from above rather than singers who are alongside the principals on a stage.
When my editor said there were five CDs and there was an MP3 version I assumed the MP3 files were on the 5th CD. But no, as with the original EMI issue of Reginald Goodall’s Götterdämmerung, Elder’s brave and refined recording is spread over a whopping five disc set, but this could have been squeezed onto 4, if Act III was split and some of the applause cut out. The MP3 edition is bought separately on a single CD. Expansive timings, careful layering of orchestral voices and even the recording’s live English origins will for many evoke the ghost of ‘Reggie’. But Goodall’s leisurely tempi could be inflexible, as if the hand-brake were left on. Here Sir Mark Elder is closer on the scale to Hans Knappertsbusch, allowing the music to breathe in long overarching lines whilst being more prepared to energise the drama when required.
Closer to Knappertsbusch but, for me, often not close enough. It’s not a trite question of the stopwatch. The opening of Elder’s Funeral March, for example, is expansive with broad uplift and is thrillingly exciting. Isolated long-spun instrumental lines in the Norns scene and as Gutrune waits for Siegfried in Act III dig deeply into Götterdämmerung’s dark psychology. Yet Knappertsbusch scores better in two key ways. First Kna consistently generates more steam, mostly through bolder rhythmic attack. Compare the searing energy Knappertsbusch and Astrid Varnay generate at the end of the Duet or that terrifying scene where Brünnhilde thinks she sees Siegfried approaching through the magic fire, even if Kna does not have Elder’s engineering or Hallé brass section. Elder’s Act II final scene is magnificent but oddly self-conscious, even prim, with little sense of a trap sprung, and characters increasingly sucked into a dark downward vortex. And then there’s a question of timbre. There is a lingering refinement about the careful balances, of the edges being rounded out, particularly in timpani attacks, and the palette cushioned. Perhaps there is a Parsifal clamouring to get out? Knappertsbusch makes greater use of that Germanic ‘crashing sound’ and bolder primary colours to raise dramatic temperatures.
Happily the singing is mostly superlative and, thank goodness, no-one lets the side down. Attila Jun’s Hagen is arguably the standout performance as he brings welcome grit to drama. This bass is a deep well of malevolence, darkly shimmering, with extraordinary presence, if not always ideally steady. Gustafson’s Gutrune is also superbly acted, strongly sung with just the right touch of hysteria and, finally, pathos. Canadian tenor Lars Cleveman is a lyrical, long-breathed Siegfried, strong and powerful. Windgassen’s heldentenor fades with greater presence in Siegfried’s final lines. Not for the first time I wondered if acting is easier under the conversational lyricism of Böhm and Krauss. Susan Bickley’s mezzo is clear and beautiful, lacking the dark weight, that ominous doom that Elisabeth Höngen (Knappertsbusch 1951) and Maria von Ilosvay (Keilberth 1955) bring to Waltraute’s warning. Bickley’s voice is also not as large as Katarina Dalayman’s rounded and womanly Brünnhilde. Notice also a husky, aerated edge to Dalayman’s chest sound which is quite sexy! If only Dalayman did not push into so many top notes, ruining the long lines she is obviously aiming for. Compare Brünnhilde’s Act III entrance with Rita Hunter who stands and delivers radiant streams of sound that really soar. Anyone who has endured the Levine or Haitink sets will be relieved that Dalayman’s Brünnhilde not only boasts rich colours but is blessedly steady.
All is revealed in the Immolation scene. The violins play their opening figurations up-tempo and with clear rhythmic precision. The tempo broadens towards the first crescendo at “des hehresten Helden verzehrt”, which goes for surprisingly little here. Perhaps Elder and Dalayman were keeping their powder dry for “Vollbringt Brunnhildes Winsch”, which certainly is magnificent, brass and timps thundering. The Gibichungs are more likely to obey the command of Rita Hunter or Birgit Nilsson here and Dalayman is best in the central section, with ruminative colours, regretting the Gods’ demise. As Brünnhilde summons Loge to Valhalla the drama builds in huge waves of sound which Dalayman undermines by pushing up into notes. Martha Modl also betrayed effort here, and it can work dramatically as Brünnhilde makes one last great stand, but Dalayman’s impressive acting does not go as far as Modl’s portrayal of intense human tragedy. But has anyone? Instrumental lines are kept admirably transparent as Valhalla collapses although the force of Furtwängler’s increasingly frenzied rhythmic attacks or Toscanini’s sheer violence are sorely missed. As the Rhein overflows internal balances are stunning, the trumpets cap rather than blast and the timpani fills out the sound-stage. The transcendent glow of the final bars, like so much in this set, are a testament to the Hallé. The orchestra must feel very proud.
The Hallé booklet note contains a cast list, track-listing and synopsis whilst a PDF of the libretto in German and English, in large readable type, can be downloaded from a file on CD5. There is no essay, no cast biographies, and, disappointingly, no essay on what was obviously a great concert event in Manchester. The roars of approval at the end of each Act are clear evidence of this. I struggled to find a sonic difference between the CD and MP3 versions and recommend the MP3 as a super-bargain buy. Audiophiles with superior sound systems and finely tuned sensibilities may claim they can hear one.
Reactions to Elder’s recording will depend on your view of Götterdämmerung. Is this a monumental opera or does it tend more towards the cut and thrust predominant in the Italian operas Wagner ostensibly scorned, but mirrored within Götterdämmerung’s (sub)plot complexities? (see Peter Conrad A song of love and death (1987)). Forced to choose I’d stick with Knappertsbusch (1951 Testament) as the best all-round set, supplemented with the Immolation scenes by Furtwängler, Toscanini and Goodall listed above. You must also hear Modl sing Brünnhilde for Keilberth. Elder’s new recording is certainly the best ‘expansive’ DDD Götterdämmerung but for raw drama and all-round singing Barenboim’s set is closer to the edge.
David Harbin
Hallé musicians radiate talent and dedication in achieving such luminous, transparent playing. ... see Full Review