WAGNER Das Rheingold (Elder)
The third instalment of the Hallé’s slowly assembling Ring cycle – this episode from a concert and rehearsals in November 2016 – is an even greater triumph for the orchestra than their preceding Götterdämmerung and Walküre. Not only is there a special gloss on the sound (strings especially), a real Wagnerian Klang, but the manner in which the solos (both sectional and individual) are now taken bears witness to the fluency of freshly acquired experience.
Evidently relishing the sonorities he is now getting from his band, Mark Elder’s handling of the score has at times an almost Karajan-like indulgence of sound for sound’s sake (although I can hear Reginald Goodall muttering in disagreement: ‘what is music but sound?’). The only problem with that is a lack of pulse where, in this still extraordinary score of all-recitative, we might want to push on from the dramatic point of view. Here both the opening events on the Rhine and the final confrontation from the re-entry of Freia with the giants spend a lot of time looking at the (beautiful) musical scenery. There is no lack of pace or drive (and occasionally an almost Solti-esque violence), however, in the big scènes à faire 2 and 3, where the incidents are skilfully dovetailed into another.
The cast are strongly characterised and not always as you might expect; some fresh thinking here. Iain Paterson is a real godly and super-cool Wotan, little of the guile-on-sleeve villainy that’s become almost a norm. Plenty of evil from Samuel Youn’s Alberich includes an over-the-top scream when he loses the Ring. Lots of subtlety and detail come from Susan Bickley’s Fricka and Emma Bell’s Freia in those one-off phrases that too often slip by, while David Stout and David Butt Philip avoid caricature in truly sung portraits of the ‘lesser’ gods. Will Hartmann’s less-is-more Loge fits in with his master; Reinhard Hagen and Clive Bayley’s giants have the right mixture of sentiment (for Freia) and violence. Completing the cast are nice Rhinedaughters, a noble and straight Swedish Erda (Susanne Resmark from Decca’s Copenhagen Ring) and a Mime (Nicky Spence) good with text who doesn’t overdo his moaning.
The recording is once again technically spacious and clear. It’s too soon to insert this new performance somewhere into the order of merit of the ever-increasing number of Rheingolds but a resampling of the old standards Solti (Decca), Karajan (DG) and Goodall (Chandos) will give you an idea of its comparative virtues.