Richard Wagner: Das Rheingold

The latest in their highly regarded Wagner opera series, Hallé present the live recording of their acclaimed Bridgewater Hall performance.

Das Rheingold stands as the Vorabend or "Preliminary Evening" of Wagner’s epic Der Ring des Nibelungen, designed to be free of the traditional operatic concepts of aria and operatic chorus, and presented as the more epic Bühnenfestspiel or “stage festival play”, with the linking of dramatic elements through the use of musical motifs.

Recorded at the Bridgewater Hall, capturing all the drama of the acclaimed live performance.

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"More than a decade ago I reviewed what I believe was Sir Mark Elder’s first foray into the realm of Wagner. I was quite familiar with Elder as an opera conductor, heard him several times during his tenure at ENO, but then mostly in Verdi. However he turned out to be a splendid Wagnerian as well, which has later been confirmed by various complete sets on the Hallé label. The first was Götterdämmerung, enthusiastically reviewed here at MWI by Brian Wilson, whose enthusiasm I wholeheartedly share. Several later sets have for various reasons failed to reach my shelves, but when I found Das Rheingold on the latest wish-list I begged for it and here are my impressions: The Hallé are certainly a fully-fledged Wagner orchestra and I can’t resist quoting myself eleven years ago: “There is an admirable homogeneity of sound, both as a total experience and within the different departments. The strings are warm and silvery, the brass is sonorous and punchy and the woodwind blend beautifully.” This is in evidence everywhere here too, and the excellent recording contributes greatly to let the orchestra blossom whenever there is an opportunity. Mostly of course in the purely instrumental music, and there is a lot of that. What is especially noteworthy is Sir Mark’s skilful handling of dynamics. The very opening is a classical example, taking us from an inaudible start, expanding organically in a relentless crescendo up to the rise of the curtain. To achieve this the conductor has to judge the dynamics so that the tension is constantly heated, with no slacking of intensity. The audience should, literally be sitting on the edge of their seats and feel the sweat pearling on their collective forehead. I don’t know what my audience colleagues in Bridgewater Hall felt on 27 November 2016, but I certainly had a distinct sense of white heat when listening on the Swedish National Day (6 June). Admittedly we had a heat wave in Scandinavia at the time but this heat came distinctly from within. And there are other places where Elder’s dynamic mastery pays dividends. The interlude before scene 2 is truly spectacular, where the music is a kind of equivalent to a continuous camera-tracking from the bottom of the Rhine to the top of the mountain where Wotan and Fricka are still asleep. I noted the same scrupulous gradations in Asher Fisch’s epoch-making first Australian Ring issued some ten years ago, and returning to my review of Das Rheingold I found that I had made almost identical descriptions of his handling of the orchestra. Generally I feel that there are several similarities between Fisch and Elder, which is a recommendation in itself. Where Fisch’s Rheingold was partly at a disadvantage concerned some of the singing. There were some wobblers in the cast and some others who overtaxed their voices. In that respect Elder’s cast wins hands down. He has an excellent trio of Rheinmaidens, their voices blending beautifully in the concerted passages and individually also very attractive. Samuel Youn’s dark and menacing Alberich can be compared favourably also with his counterparts on the legendary Solti, Böhm and Karajan sets and is vocally superior to Theo Adam’s expressive but wobbly dwarf on the in many respects highly recommendable Haitink set. Iain Paterson’s Wotan leaves me in two minds. He has the required power and can be quite impressive – but he also has an annoying beat in the voice now and then. But he also has an attractive lyrical restraint in many passages, making him very human. Susan Bickley’s Fricka has been hailed before and she certainly stands with the best in a very competitive field. Emma Bell does what she can with Freja’s rather nondescript role, while Reinhard Hagen and Clive Bayley’s giants are really towering experiences. David Stout’s Donner is the usual hothead – always brandishing his dreaded hammer – and he sings impressively his Schwüles Gedubst schwebt in der Luft (CD 3 tr. 10) and David Butt Philip shines in Froh’s Zur Burg führt die Brücke. Possibly the best two impersonations are Will Hartmann’s Loge and Nicky Spence’s Mime. Both are superb character tenors with wide pallets of vocal colours and full arrays of expressive nuances. They are both in the Graham Clarke division, which is praise indeed. The only weak link is Susanne Resmark’s uncharacteristically shaky and colourless Erda, but her solo takes a mere 5:32 and she also makes amends with some brilliant forte singing. The finale is magnificent and the ovations that follow are understandable. This is a Rheingold that is well worth adding to anyone’s collection." Göran Forsling - Musicweb

Wagnerian music, which has always generated controversies, provokes, by its musical form, the poetic argumentation and the titanic instrumentation, on the one hand, the irritation that it generates in the tradition of conservative thought and, on the other hand, there It has a strong attraction to meet, listen to it, interpret it and, ultimately, to direct it and perform it. The English director Sir Mark Elder, who has already recorded three operas by Richard Wagner with the Hallé Orchestra, Die Walküre, Parsifal, Götterdämmerung, presents a new version of Das Rheingold, the first of the four operas that configures the cycle of Der Ring des Nibelungen. The Gold of the Rhine, in a direct, very expressive version of Sir Mark Elder, has the merit of entering, without a doubt, the inevitable voluptuousness with which the characters seduced and tormented by their passions live. It was recorded live at The Bridgewater Hall in Manchester in November 2016. These records begin the Wagnerian cycle of the Hallé Orchestra which will last for a few years, without any symptoms of exhaustion, as evidenced by the abundant live recordings, all of them superb Sir Mark Elder has created a precedent with his Wagnerian recordings, an example of the many magical moments that will be created in his future work. As the reader already has to know, the history of the Der Ring der Nibelungen cycle refers to the struggles of the gods, heroes and other mythical figures who strive to possess the magic ring that grants power, destructive force and lust of power. The work the soloists have done is excellent. The most notable is the Alberich by Samuel Youn. The color of her voice is spectacular. Iain Paterson plays Wotan with a lot of comfort on the defensive. Wotan will not be relevant until later. The convincing Susan Bickley, in the character of Fricka, from his first entry, becomes a true goddess of singing. And the soprano Emma Bell, like Freia, makes a formidable interpretation. Regarding the English orchestra, it is necessary to say that the metal section is spectacular, to give a significant example. The truth is that the whole orchestra acts with majesty to bring Wagner's musical strength to the listener. Elder knows how to extract the best and best of his orchestra: he knows how to shape and rhythm each scene, recreate wonderful textures and highlight the relevant details of the instrumentation. The musical achievement is very satisfactory; This is a new, transcendental recording. Sonograma Magazine

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