West Australian Symphony Orchestra/Asher Fisch – Ledger & Wagner

The Madness and Death of King Ludwig [World Premiere]
Götterdämmerung – Siegfried’s Rhine Journey; Siegfried’s Funeral Music
Die Walküre – Act III

Brünnhilde – Lisa Gasteen
Wotan – Harry Peeters
Sieglinde – Kirsti Harms
Waltraute – Elizabeth Campbell
Grimgerde – Fiona Campbell
Helmwige – Aivale Cole
Schwertleite – Sarah-Janet Dougiamas
Rossweise – Chrisina Grønborg
Gerhilde – Zoe Kikiros
Ortlinde – Merlyn Quaife
Siegrune – Elisa Wilson

West Australian Symphony Orchestra
Asher Fisch

Reviewed by: William Yeoman

Reviewed: 7 March, 2008
Venue: Perth Concert Hall, Western Australia

Lisa GasteenAfter “Die Walküre” at the Met, Queensland-born soprano Lisa Gasteen is back in Australia taking part in concert performances of that opera’s Act Three with major orchestras around the country. This was one such occasion, made even more spectacular by the world premiere of The Madness and Death of King Ludwig by West Australian Symphony Orchestra composer-in-residence James Ledger.

James LedgerLedger’s work, commissioned by the WASO as a fanfare for an otherwise all-Wagner programme, is a tribute to Wagner’s eccentric patron and is scored for 17 brass instruments, percussion and 8 double basses. With some impressive climaxes and direct quotes from the ‘Ring’ cycle emerging from Ledger’s sometimes tortured, dissonant writing, The Madness and Death of King Ludwig provided an surreal, nightmarish overture to the evening.

The rest of a considerably expanded WASO then squeezed onto the platform for ‘Siegfried’s Rhine Journey’ and ‘Siegfried’s Funeral Music’ from “Götterdämmerung”. Asher Fisch is considered a fine Wagnerian; like Gasteen, he was involved in the State Opera of South Australia’s critically acclaimed 2004 ‘Ring’ cycle (available on Melba Recordings). Fisch conducted with a measured intensity that was fully matched by the WASO, especially in the strings. Some small lapses in ensemble seem hardly worth mentioning, given the overall impact of this performance.

The second half saw a rousing Vorspiel and some high-fiving among the Valkyries accentuating Wagner’s grim humour as Act Three of “Die Walküre” got under way. What a gallimaufry these girls made, dressed in all manner of lurid, clashing colours – in contrast to their fine collective singing.

As the act progressed Gasteen, the only performer singing from memory, again showed why she is one of today’s great Brünnhildes, with her every vocal inflection, her every look and gesture mirroring the renegade Valkyrie’s inner torments. Kirsti Harms was also excellent as Sieglinde, while Harry Peeters’s Wotan was dramatically impressive, the voice for the most part rich and suggestive of myriad colours. Only towards the end did it falter, often barely audible above the orchestra.

Fisch and the WASO were every bit as compelling as they had been all evening: a perfect way to open the WASO’s 2008 season.

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