Mark Elder and the Hallé’s latest instalment in Wagner’s Ring cycle is their recording of Das Rheingold. It’s a rather back-to-front project: Götterdämmerung was mounted first in 2009, Die Walküre followed in 2011, Rheingold in 2016 – all available on the Hallé’s label – and when Siegfried appears (already performed), the concert project will have turned in a must-have Ring.
Rheingold is an action-packed opera, and Elder brings it to life so vividly that listeners will have no problems conjuring their own dream staging. The Hallé’s playing, typically, is consistently inside the music’s lyricism and nobility, to which can be added a fine sense of mischief and primary-colour theatricality, and the musicians don’t miss a trick when it comes to the detail of supporting singers and expanding on the libretto. The brass-playing is especially in character, with epic spreads of sound from bass trombone and tuba, and the orchestra as a whole is brilliantly served by Steve Portnoi’s engineering – the spacious, lively recording rates highly, and the balance between singers and orchestra is exemplary.
Elder, a consummate theatre musician, once again proves himself to be master of the tensions between pace and tempo, revels in all Wagner’s nature and illustrative music and is unfailingly inventive at revealing the personalities behind the notes. He is unequivocally in the driving seat.
Iain Paterson’s Wotan effortlessly conveys the top god’s compromised authority and power – the voice has thrilling edge and substance at the top of his range, and he brings an unmistakable irony and detachment to his dealings with Alberich and Loge. Samuel Youn sometimes overplays Alberich’s villainy, exposed further by the care and subtlety Elder and the Hallé take, but he musters plenty of dark force for Alberich’s curse. Will Hartmann’s Loge is a special pleasure, turning the fire-god’s capriciousness into a boulevardier-like cabaret turn, at times veering close to Sprechgesang, and Nicky Spence’s Mime is superb.
The Rhinemaiden trio spin a lovely transparency, given extra buoyancy by Leah-Marian Jones’s sonorous mezzo; Susan Bickley is on majestic form as Fricka; and Emma Bell gives Freia an unexpected passion and urgency. With Clive Bayley and David Stout bringing significant clout to respectively Fafner and Donner, there isn’t a weak link in this cast of gods and monsters.
The booklet includes a synopsis, and the text and translation can be downloaded from the address given therein.