Wagner: Gotterdammerung / Elder, Gustafson, Bickley, Dalayman, Cleveman, Jun, Shore
Recorded live in Manchester's Bridgewater Hall over two evenings in May, 2009, this concert recording of Wagner's Götterdämmerung easily stands among the work's three or four finest on disc. For starters, it is sumptuously yet naturally engineered, with voices and instruments in ideal perspective, and there's realistic depth and definition to the orchestral image no matter how texturally complex or threadbare. As with Reginald Goodall, Mark Elder's tempos are slow, but they never, ever drag because the conductor's strong inner rhythm fuels the carefully coaxed and painstakingly balanced linear strands.
This is mainly apparent in orchestral interludes. In Siegfried's Rhine Journey, for example, notice the churning string accompaniment's pronounced dynamic gradations, and the rarely heard leitmotivs that bubble to the surface. The myriad tempo changes and drawn out rests in the hunting scene leading up to and including Siegfried's dying words are taken on faith as they often are not, and the conductor plays up the gnawing half-step steerhorn dissonances in Act 2 while letting the low strings slightly drag, creating a kind of primeval sound world that couldn't be more appropriate for the moment. It also allows for the choral antiphony to build momentum and maintain full comprehensibility.
And what a cast! Lars Cleveman's multi-leveled vocal acting and musical security add up to an impressively tender, proud, and vulnerable Siegfried. Katarina Dalayman's Brünnhilde holds equal allure, and equal tonal command in all registers. In Alberich's brief scene at the start of Act 2, Bayreuth veteran Andrew Shore is a little too guttural at times, but Attila Jun's dark yet agile Hagen nearly steals the show--and that's not to take anything away from Peter Coleman-Wright's sensitive singing as Gunther. Some listeners may find Susan Bickley a more understated, less emotive Waltraute than "tradition" deems, yet her impeccable diction and legato control speak for themselves. I also should mention the Norns and the Rhinemaidens--what splendid and superbly blended vocal trios!
Although the opera could have fit onto four CDs, a five-disc deployment allows Act 2 to stand alone on one disc, and for Act 3 to be logically divided across two discs as Act 1 usually is. The fifth disc contains a full libretto and English translation as a PDF document. Even if you already own Solti (Decca), Keilberth (Testament), or Barenboim (Teldec), Elder's Götterdämmerung adds up to a most fulfilling and modestly priced dramatic and musical experience that no serious Wagnerian should miss.
--Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com
Catalog Number: CDHLD7525
Composer: Richard Wagner
Conductor: Mark Elder
Orchestra/Ensemble: BBC Symphony Chorus, Hallé Orchestra, London Symphony Chorus
Performer: Andrew Shore, Attila Jun, Ceri Williams, Katarina Dalayman, Katherine Broderick, Lars Cleveman, Leah-Marian Jones, Madeleine Shaw, Miranda Keys, Nancy Gustafson, Peter Coleman-Wright, Susan Bickley, Yvonne Howard