The Elder/Hallé Ring Concludes With Siegfried

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 7

Sound Quality: 9

Mark Elder and the Hallé complete their Wagner Ring Cycle with Siegfried, which, like its predecessors, stems from concert performances in the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester. The Hallé’s robustly responsive playing takes center stage, together with Elder’s keen ear for detail.

The predominance of low strings in Act 1 can be potentially fatiguing, yet the viola and cello motives are so beautifully shaped that they seem to be secondary characters in the drama. Then there is the delicacy and chamber-like interplay throughout the protagonist’s introspective musings in Act 2. Indeed, the strong synergy between the orchestra and singers keeps the drama so consistently alive throughout the opera that you don’t really notice Elder’s longer than usual timings. Actually, you do, once: Act 3’s Prelude treads heavily and slowly like an uphill runner, even though one has to acknowledge Elder’s careful layering of the imitative writing. But he compensates by summoning up sustained and resonant breadth in the interlude when Siegfried broaches the fiery barrier surrounding the sleeping Brünnhilde and in the music leading up to her first lines upon awakening.

On to the singers. As Siegfried, Simon O’Neill does his best work in lyrical and conversational episodes, yet the voice tends to tighten up on high notes and in moments when heft and projection are needed, such as in the Act 1 Forging Song, the final confrontation with Mime near the end of Act 2, and in the Act 3 duet’s big climaxes. Indeed, the Mime, Gerhard Siegel, sounds like a younger tenor, and he truly sings rather than cackles the part. Clive Bayley’s Fafner is equipped with a “voice trumpet” that makes for a muffling rather than frightening impact.

I admired the smooth assurance of Iain Paterson’s Wotan in this cycle’s Das Rheingold, and he makes a comparable impact as the Wanderer in this opera, especially in his summoning of Erda in Act 3’s opening scene. The melting legato and understated simplicity that Anna Larsson brings to Erda is a known quantity and a classic interpretation. Although the Siegfried Alberich is essentially a cameo, Martin Winkler nearly steals the show in his antagonistic confrontation with the Wanderer at the start of Act 2.

If Marin Christensson’s Woodbird isn’t the lightest and most supple in the forest, at least you understand her words. Lightness and suppleness are welcome assets in Rachel Nicholls’ Brünnhilde, but not her wobbly, undifferentiated vibrato on sustained notes. Ben Goldscheider’s exemplary rendition of Siegfried’s horn call deserves a special shout out. An uneven conclusion to an uneven Ring cycle whose remarkable first installment, Götterdämmerung, remains its prize.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Solti/Vienna Philharmonic (Decca); Böhm/Bayreuth Festival (Decca)

  • Gerhard Siegel (tenor); Simon O’Neill (tenor); Iain Paterson (bass-baritone); Martin Winkler (baritone); Clive Bayley (bass); Malin Christensson (soprano); Anna Larsson (contralto); Rachel Nicholls (soprano)
  • Hallé, Mark Elder

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