In the theatre the connecting tissue between set piece and set piece in an opera is indispensable, as it serves to keep the audience focused on the dramatic action. In a recording of an opera the same connecting tissue keeps the listener on track while waiting for the next “big moment” to come.
Listening to the superb reading of Wagner’s Götterdämmerung by the Hong Kong Philharmonic led by Dutch conductor Jaap van Zweden and just recently released by NAXOS in a four CD set just recorded live this past January this listener found himself not waiting for the next familiar moment, but wanting to linger at every minute of the 3 ½ hour musical journey.
The sound, engineered by Phil Rowlands, James Clark and Roy Cheung is crystalline at both extremes of the dynamic range, and evenhandedly faithful to Wagner’s massive orchestration. The insightfully and succinctly written accompanying booklet annotated by Keith Anderson is perfect as well.
And then there is the Bamberg Symphony Chorus and the Latvian State Choir, both doing sterling work in key moments: Hagen’s call to the vassals being one of the many goose-bump inducing ones.
The soloists form a wonderful mix of veteran Wagnerians and up-and-coming stars integrated, thanks to Van Zweden into as good an ensemble as ever heard in a Wagner opera by this listener – every leading and supporting role is flawlessly cast.
The three Norns that open the Prologue: Sarah Castle, Stephanie Houtzeel, Jenufa Gleich, and the three Rhine Maidens that bring the opera to its close: Eri Nakamura, Aurthelia Varak, and Hermine Haselböck are cast with first-tier singers, several of them young Wagnerians on the rise.
Gun-Brit Barkmin is a sensational Brunhilde, an expressive singer endowed with unending energy and a ringing top voice that never turns shrill. The American tenor Daniel Brenna holds his own in this cast, impressively singing the impossibly demanding part of Siegfried.
The young American soprano Amanda Majeski delivers a sensitively sung Gutrune, and Michelle De Young brings her ample dramatic mezzo-soprano to the part of Waltraute with great success. The basses and bass-baritones are exemplary: Chinese bass-baritone Shenyang makes his mark as Gunther. Eric Halfvarson is riveting as Hagen, pouring out a torrent of pitch-black sound in the iconic Watch and earlier in the scene with the sinister Alberich of Peter Kálmán, a Hungarian bass who matches his colleague decibel for decibel.
There are plenty of recordings of both the Ring cycle and its components, but with Wagner and the Ring it’s never too many. Recorded live with no room for retakes and mistakes, this is a superb addition to the collection of any opera fan, whether Wagnerian or not.
Rafael de Acha