Andrew Davis
RCS Voices
Royal Scottish National Orchestra
25 August 2019
Usher Hall Edinburgh
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
SiegfriedBurkhard Fritz
BrünnhildeChristine Goerke
GuntherJosef Wagner
GutruneAmber Wagner
AlberichSamuel Youn
HagenAin Anger
WaltrauteKaren Cargill
WoglindeDanae Kontora
WellgundeCatriona Morison
FloßhildeClaudia Huckle
1. NornRonnita Miller
2. NornKaren Cargill
3. NornErin Wall

A truly fabulous end to the Edinburgh International Festival’s Ring

Can a performance have ever been so keenly anticipated? The Edinburgh International Festival’s Ring Cycle in concert performance began promisingly three years ago with Valery Gergiev’s Das Rheingold followed by an epic Die Walküre from Sir Andrew Davis and the RSNO. Mark Elder and the Hallé brought its heroic Siegfried to Edinburgh last year, but it is still that astonishing Walküre that is talked about. There was a palpable crackle of expectation in the packed Usher Hall as Davis and the RSNO with Christine Goerke as Brünnhilde returned to finish the cycle with Götterdämmerung, the fiery finale.

The RSNO filled the platform, powerhouse cellos centre stage, violins left and right, but it was the double timpani and the two rows of horns that caught the eye with the six golden harps resplendently towering over everything at the front of the organ gallery. This is an orchestra which does not get to play full operas very often, the players bringing joyful discovery and a freshness to the music, rising magnificently to the challenge drawing us straight back into the Ring’s themes from the very first bars as the Norns entered to reprise the story so far, luxury casting from Ronnita Miller, Karen Cargill and Erin Wall sounding wonderful.

Davis, now in his mid-seventies, sat on a stool to conduct most of Walküre, but was on his feet for the entirety of this performance drawing wondrous storytelling from the players, keeping the work moving steadily along. The orchestral interludes, the Rhine Journey and Siegfried’s Funeral Music were transformative, the thrilling “earworm” leitmotifs cascading through the work, but Davis worked on light and shade, turning from magisterial to heart-breaking compassion in a moment. Strings were the hardworking, honest backbone, illustrated with beautiful woodwind solo work, but it was the brass that stole the show. Nine onstage horns, four more offstage and additional steerhorn players were completely pivotal to the music, playing as if their lives depended on it, their gossamer soft entries were as effective as their burnished punchiness was striking. The heavy brass added the necessary Wagnerian weight and I enjoyed the bass trumpet’s unusual colouring.

Christine Goerke, surely the festival’s favourite Brünnhilde, gave an absolutely immense performance, full of power yet vulnerable, using her tight performing space to maximum dramatic advantage. So passionate was her love for Siegfried, her affront on being tricked was even more deeply heartfelt. The undoubted high point of the entire evening was the mesmerising scene between Brünnhilde and Waltrute, Cargill returning to the stage on powerfully dramatic form, her gorgeous mezzo oozing weighty authority. The scene moved from warm sisterly hugs to a sad detachment as Cargill’s vivid description of the gods in despair hit home as she told of Wotan waiting in diminishing hope for his ravens to deliver crumbs of good news. It was a wonderful moment from this Wagnerian dream team.

In the Hall of the Gibichungs, Ain Anger was a thoughtful Hagen, a solid voice weighing up his next moves and outwitting Gutrune and Gunter, the pair beautifully sung by Amber Wagner and Josef Wagner, the RCS Voices adding energy and depth. As a Siegfried newcomer, Burkhard Fritz’s silvery tenor shone through, sometimes variable but always honest, tiring a little towards the end as he recalled the Woodbird’s message. Samuel Youn returned to reprise his role as Alberich, a splendidly evil performance. The three Rhinemaidens, Danae Kontora, Edinburgh’s own Catriona Morrison and late stand-in Claudia Huckle blended beautifully, mischievously teasing Siegfried mercilessly to try to secure the Ring.

This performance really took off vocally when the singers came off their scores and were able to act. Concert versions of operas are a strange halfway house, but I felt the action became somewhat two dimensional when some of the singers remained tethered to their music stands for too long.

The EIF’s Ring cycle has been a wonderful experience over the four years, a tremendous achievement with the three different orchestras and hand-picked international casts. For me, it has been a thrill to watch the orchestras create this wonderful music before our eyes, a rare visual lesson in how the Ring is constructed, a secret normally hidden in the depths of the pit. This performance of Götterdämmerung was a fabulous end to Edinburgh’s memorable Ring, Goerke’s final bow bringing the hall to its feet. Tickets for this performance were snapped up early, but happily it was recorded for broadcast for those not able to be there.

David Smythe | 27 August 2019

The Guardian

Outstanding end to festival’s mighty Ring cycle

This was the culmination of Edinburgh international festival’s four-year Ring cycle in concert and as such one of the hottest tickets at this year’s EIF. Such anticipation can lead to disappointment, but this proved to be an event that lived up to its hype. Andrew Davis and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the partnership behind the lauded Walküre at the 2017 festival, once again took to the Usher Hall stage for the final instalment of Wagner’s epic music drama. Apparently, the original intention was to have a different orchestra-conductor partnership for each opera but so successful was the Davis-RSNO collaboration in Walküre that they got the call up for Götterdämmerung.

Many of the singers had likewise appeared in previous instalments, but none was more central to the success of the performance than soprano Christine Goerke. Having scaled the heights of the complete Ring cycle at the Metropolitan Opera earlier this year, Goerke is the Brünnhilde of the moment. It’s not difficult to see why. Her luminous soprano has the vocal strength to surmount the mighty Wagnerian orchestra without sounding forced or harsh. Allied with genuine dramatic capabilities, hers is an all-too-human account of the warrior goddess, a seductive combination of pathos and power.

Goerke’s may have been the standout performance but there was plenty of interest elsewhere, particularly Ain Anger’s splendidly world-weary, implacable Hagen and Karen Cargill in the dual roles of Waltraute and Second Norn. Greek soprano Danae Kontora, who made an impression as a last-minute stand-in Woodbird in Siegfried, returned in her own right as an equally flirtatious Rhinemaiden. Burkhard Fritz, a new addition to the cast, was a solid although rather soft-toned Siegfried.

Wagner in the concert hall can be as much symphony as opera but Andrew Davis’s coolly measured controlled approach ensured that the performance was never static or self-indulgent. It might have been a little restrained for those who like their Wagner swooning and swooping, but its elegant pacing brought life to the light and shade of the music; the ecstatic outpourings sudden and exciting. Under his direction a vibrant, energised RSNO gave a burnished, nuanced account of the score.

At the close of the EIF, it was a timely reminder that at their best festivals can foster artistic partnerships to create something truly outstanding.

Rowena Smith | 26 Aug 2019


Andrew Davis’s Götterdämmerung Ends the 2019 Edinburgh Festival in a Blaze of Glory

Alles was ist endet! Four years after the first notes sounded on the Edinburgh International Festival’s Ring (in concert), it comes to a close with Götterdämmerung. This has been the hottest ticket of the whole festival – I believe it was the first thing to sell out – and there’s good reason for that.

The story so far: last year’s Siegfried from the Hallé was really good, and 2016’s Mariinsky Rheingold was perfectly fine, but the real standout up to now has been 2017’s Die Walküre featuring Scotland’s own RSNO and conducted by Sir Andrew Davis. That was such a (surprise?) success that the same team was invited back to close the deal, and the mixture of supporting the home team, plus the desire to see if they could hit the same heights as before, must have contributed to making this concert such a popular sell.

And, yes: the orchestral team were fantastic again. This an ensemble for whom concert opera is a very long way from their normal practice but, as in Die Walküre, they stormed Valhalla in the glory of their achievement. The strings shimmered, fluttered and tore their way through every scene, be it the Norns’ mist, Brünnhilde’s fire or the surging waters of the Rhine. The winds flickered through the magical flames and created a sound of austere beauty for the very opening, and the brass sounded sensational throughout, creating a wave of majesty for Brünnhilde and Siegfried’s entry in the Prologue and scarcely letting up. Invidious as it is to pick a winner, I was left continually amazed by how much the horns had to do, as well as how brilliantly they were doing it, flawlessly led by Christopher Gough, the section bearing the burden of not only the stage pictures but so much of the musical heft of this bottomless score.

And I say all this because, as before, the glory of a concert performance is that it places the orchestra centre stage and allows the audience to hear (and see) things that would normally be lost in the blend when the orchestra is corralled in the pit. I had never before noticed, for example, just how much work the violas and second violins have to do in Siegfried’s Funeral March, nor the dark flute trills that accompany Brünnhilde’s realisation of her betrayal. Who needs staging when the sound pictures are as good as this?

Or, for that matter, if the man in charge is as good as Andrew Davis? Again, Davis shows himself to be a master of Wagner’s score, controlling the ebb and flow impeccably. Only very occasionally, such as at the beginning of Hagen’s Watch, did he sound a little rushed, but he managed the great set pieces wonderfully, with a rush of emotional euphoria carefully controlled in the Funeral March or in Gunther and Brünnhilde’s entrance in Act II. Why on earth haven’t we heard more of his Wagner on this side of the Atlantic?!

The singing cast welcomed back three of the ladies in the Die Walküre cast and, truth be told, the ladies were the finer part of this cast. I have had my doubts about Christine Goerke as she sang Brünnhilde through the cycle, but her voice and her manner have matured marvellously and I found this Brünnhilde her strongest yet. She embodied the character’s journey really impressively, and her voice had the ability to cut cleanly through the huge orchestra at all the key moments. It still isn’t a luxurious voice, and there were moments were there were signs of snatching for a phrase at the top, but she still has all the notes, and the emotional charge was palpable.

Amber Wagner and Karen Cargill, the other returnees, were just as fine. Amber Wagner shares Goerke’s ability to cut through the orchestral texture, and if her Gutrune is something of a fire-eater then at least she holds her own in this company. Karen Cargill’s Waltraute was a marvel, though. Her rich mezzo voice, redolent with emotional meaning, told the gods’ backstory with majestic colour and unarguable depth, every word carrying extraordinary layers of meaning. She and Goerke struck sparks off each other, both in their singing and in their acting, and that made their scene the highlight of the whole performance.

If there is a problem with concert stagings then it often comes when the orchestra, sharing the stage with the singers rather than confined to the pit, overwhelms the balance and drowns the singers, and that was a problem with the men. Burkhard Fritz had all the tessitura for Siegfried, but he struggled to project and could be lost in the melee. Even Ain Anger, whose sepulchral bass is perfect for Hagen, struggled to be heard at times, perhaps due to his bizarre tendency to sing into his hand held just below his chin. Josef Wagner’s Gunther, on the other hand, sang his part with energy, and Samuel Youn’s superstar Alberich acted and sang with vigorous malice. The young singers of RCS Voices sang the choral parts with accuracy and energy. The trios of Norns and Rhinemaidens were both superb: it is saying something about the prestige of the project when you have superstars like Erin Wall and Catriona Morrison hidden in their ranks.

So the Ring comes to an end, and so does the 2019 Edinburgh International Festival. It has been a strong year, with some high profile guests like Dudamel and the LA Philharmonic, and the Orchestre de Paris, not to mention some top soloists like Angela Hewitt and the Kanneh-Masons. The opera programme has been limited but strong this year, with a superb Eugene Onegin, a good Manon Lescaut and an exciting European premiere in Breaking the Waves. I also loved the James MacMillan focus. Their performance of Quickening, together with this Götterdämmerung, combine to make me nominate the RSNO as the champions of this year’s festival. They are playing sensationally well at the minute, and I cannot wait to see how next season unfolds. Snapping at their heels, however, are a Scottish Chamber Orchestra that is about to get its own lightning rod, Maxim Emelyanychev, as their new Principal Conductor, with potentially rejuvenating consequences. Let’s see what happens but, whatever the outcome, this is definitely a great time to be a music-lover in Scotland.

Simon Thompson | 26/08/2019

The Scotsman

Götterdämmerung, the apocalyptic conclusion to Wagner’s Ring Cycle, was also, on Sunday, the star-studded finale to what has been an outstanding 2019 Edinburgh International Festival opera programme. It was also the final instalment to a complete concert-style Ring Cycle, its four operas rolled out one by one over the past four festivals.

Nothing quite beats the finality of Götterdämmerung, its hours of leitmotiv high jinx and lurid backstabbing (literally in poor Siegfried’s case) reconciled in that gloriously concluding big-screen theme.

Sir Andrew Davis, not an obviously natural Wagnerian, approached the music with clear-minded efficiency, securing a tight, self-defining directionality from the RSNO (its six harps like a seraphic militia), which in turn acted as an inspirational bedrock for some classy singing. More expansiveness in the closing moments from Davis would truly have nailed it.

It opened with a dream team: Ronnita Miller, Karen Cargill and Erin Wall as the three Norns – all Wagnerian powerhouses in their own right, but together a force that could melt rock. Cargill returned as a captivating Waltraute. Josef Wagner (Gunther) and Ain Anger (Hagen) were solid presences; Danae Kontora, Catriona Morison and Claudia Huckle added a delicious effervescence as Rhinemaidens.

Burkhard Fritz’s Siegried was heroic to the last, despite fatigue threatening his final utterances; Christine Georke exhibited extraordinary vocal and emotional muscle as an unforgettable Brünnhilde; and Amber Wagner was vocally all-consuming as Getrune. Together with the pungency of the RCS Voices, this was a cast to die for.

Ken Walton | 26 August 2019

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Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
487 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 888 MByte (flac)
Broadcast (BBC 3; transmission date: 21 September 2019) of a concert performance from the Edinburgh International Festival
Complete Ring cycle:
2016-08-15 Das Rheingold (Gergiev)
2017-08-06 Die Walküre (A. Davis)
2018-08-08 Siegfried (Elder)
2019-08-25 Götterdämmerung (A. Davis)