Wagner The Ring - orchestral highlights
Not so long ago I was reviewing an impressive studio recording from Chesky (2/98), conducted by Charles Gerhardt, of much of the contents of the present CD but including also the Tristan Love Music. This new collection is even finer. Runnicles concentrates on the Ring alone (although missing out Das Rheingold). The present excerpts are taken not from opera performances, but from an orchestral concert in the Dresden Staatsoper – and what a magnificently expansive acoustic it has! At the opening of the programme the Valkyries ride in with tremendous weight and purpose; and if when following on, the tearingly poignant scene of “Wotan’s Farewell” begins rather in mid-stream, from then onwards one has the sense of a firm and continuing narrative line. Runnicles paces with the experience of the opera house and creates the most natural ebb and flow of tempo, conveying at first great tenderness, and then on through Wotan’s very human grief to the passion of Loge’s Fire music (glorious string playing throughout).
The Forest murmurs acts as a central interlude, Wagner’s tone-painting delightfully evoked, with flashes of urgency anticipating Siegfried’s coming quest, and the excerpt ending exultantly. The mood darkens; the lower strings are sombre as the horns softly intone the preparations for Siegfried’s last journey after he has made his sad farewell to Brunnhilde. Runnicles generates a hugely passionate climax and a thrilling accelerando (5'22'') before the tension falls back momentarily and Siegfried sounds his famous horn call (6'28''). But he is on his way to be murdered, and the Dresden orchestra create marvellously dramatic sonorities in strings and brass alike, thundering out those mighty chords in the death/funeral sequence. The great Immolation scene follows, and so powerful is that final conflagration of brass with its overriding lyrical string apotheosis, that one is almost aware of the heat of the flames. Throughout, Runnicles generates maximum tension, and one never has the sense that these are just excerpts, purple patches; instead one is carried satisfyingly onwards to the gods’ final nemesis and the destruction of Valhalla.
The glorious Siegfried Idyll then acts as a touchingly romantic epilogue. (What a wonderful birthday gift it was for Cosima!) Runnicles opens and closes it in a mood of gentle rapture but the central section moves forward as if it too had a narrative line, and the overall structure is made satisfyingly elliptical. Again the orchestra play very beautifully indeed. Overall this seems to me one of the finest and most moving single-disc summations of what Wagner’s orchestral writing is all about, and in the Ring the orchestra tell us everything that is happening on stage.'