Götterdämmerung – Third Day of the Stage Festival Play, Der Ring des Nibelungen: music-drama in a prologue and three acts to a libretto by the composer [sung in German]
Brünnhilde – Katarina Dalayman
Siegfried – Lars Cleveman
Gunther – Peter Coleman-Wright
Hagen – Attila Jun
Gutrune – Nancy Gustafson
Waltraute – Susan Bickley
Alberich – Andrew Shore
First Norn – Ceri Williams
Second Norn – Yvonne Howard
Third Norn – Miranda Keys
Woglinde – Katherine Broderick
Wellgunde – Madeleine Shaw
Flosshilde – Leah-Marian Jones
BBC Symphony Chorus
London Symphony Chorus
The Royal Opera Chorus and Extra Chorus
Sir Mark Elder
Recorded 9 & 10 May 2009 in Bridgewater Hall, Manchester
Reviewed by: Christian Hoskins
Reviewed: September 2010
CD No: HALLÉ CD HLD 7525
HALLÉ CD HLM 7530
(1 MP3 disc)
Duration: 4 hours 35 minutes
The Hallé’s recording of “Götterdämmerung” derives from concert performances spread across two evenings, conducted by Sir Mark Elder, in May 2009. Orchestrally the result is magnificent, testament to the quality that Sir Mark has engendered in the Hallé during his decade as Music Director. Wagner’s rich score alternately broods and glows, the writing brought to life with exemplary care for phrasing and dynamics. The brass playing is superb. I’ve never heard the canonic passage for eight horns at the start of Act Two/Scene 2 delivered with such eloquent nobility, nor Siegfried’s horn-calls played with such splendid bravura.
At 275 minutes, Elder’s is a spacious performance, comparable in length with the recordings by Karajan, Thielemann and Levine rather than the slightly swifter readings of Haitink, Keilberth and Böhm. Elder’s sense of line and care for detail compels the listener’s attention, successfully sustaining tension over the long spans. His magisterial approach is, however, less helpful during the work’s emotional high peaks, notably the culmination of Siegfried and Brünnhilde’s love duet, Siegfried’s Funeral March and the conclusion of the Immolation Scene, all of which ideally require more adrenaline to register their full effect.
Katarina Dalayman’s performance of Brünnhilde, much acclaimed at the time of the concert, is not ideal in recorded terms. In quieter passages her voice is attractively dark-hued and she communicates the text with sensitivity and lyricism. When under pressure, however, her voice is less controlled and her enunciation of consonants is often inaudible, making it difficult to follow the libretto, an issue when listening at home without the benefit of surtitles.
Siegfried was originally due to be sung by Ben Heppner, but the latter’s unavailability led to Lars Cleveman taking on the role. Cleveman is reserved in the earlier stages but becomes more engaged as the drama progresses, sounding both mellifluous and heroic by the time of his final monologue in Act Three.
Attila Jun’s Hagen is the finest performance here, an interpretation of sustained potency and menace, underpinned by a tenebrous, resonant voice. His account of Hagen’s Watch, supported by Elder’s raptly intense accompaniment, is a particular highlight. Almost as fine is Susan Bickley’s Waltraute, conveying a deeply moving sense of pleading and sorrow in her encounter with Brünnhilde in Act One.
Peter Coleman-Wright brings an attractive warmth to the equivocal character of Gunther, and Andrew Shore is impressive during his brief appearance as Alberich in Act Two. Nancy Gustafson is an attractive although not especially distinctive Gutrune. The singing of the Norns and Rhinemaidens is refined and involving. The choral contributions are superb, the Vassals’ greeting to Gunther and Brünnhilde in Act Two building to an overwhelming climax.
The recording, which slightly favours the orchestra over the singers, is weighty and atmospheric, solid in the bass and slightly veiled in the treble. Audience noise is minimal, although there are some extraneous vocalisations (from Elder?) audible at certain points. A short amount of applause is included after Acts One and two, and a rather indulgent 8 minutes after Act Three!
The recording is available as either a five-CD set, with Acts One and Three split across two discs, or a single MP3 disc encoded at a bit-rate of 320 mbps. Most modern CD-players will have no problem reading the MP3 disc (it worked not only in my Onkyo CD-player, but also in a Pioneer DVD player and a Panasonic DVD recorder). I was unable to discern any difference in sound quality between the CD and MP3.
However, all three machines used to check the MP3 disc inserted a two-second pause between each track, rendering it virtually unlistenable. Anyone hoping to play the MP3 disc direct (rather than transferring the contents to an MP3 player) will therefore need to check the situation with their player. A PDF of the libretto, including an English translation, is included on the last disc of the CD set and on the MP3 disc, but no information about the work or the cast.
Among the more-modern recordings of “Götterdämmerung”, Elder’s performance faces strong competition from Haitink (recorded under studio conditions in 1991) and Thielemann (recorded live at Bayreuth in 2008). Haitink’s account has greater intensity than Elder’s in the work’s significant moments, a strong cast (notably Siegfried Jerusalem as Siegfried and John Tomlinson as Hagen) and excellent sound. Thielemann’s performance is less well sung and recorded than Haitink’s, but the performance has an epic sweep and power and is enormously compelling. Elder brings insights that are not found elsewhere, however, and is certainly worth investigating, even if not an automatic first choice.