Siegfried

Mark Elder
The Hallé
Date/Location
2/3 June 2018
Bridgewater Hall Manchester
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
Cast
SiegfriedSimon O’Neill
MimeGerhard Siegel
WotanIain Paterson
AlberichMartin Winkler
FafnerClive Bayley
ErdaAnna Larsson
BrünnhildeRachel Nicholls
WaldvogelMalin Christensson
Gallery
Reviews
Gramophone

This new Siegfried completes Mark Elder and the Hallé’s Ring, nine years in the making from concerts in Manchester and Edinburgh to record release. This is not, of course, the first time that a symphony orchestra without regular experience of work in an opera theatre’s pit has done this. The Vienna Symphony were responsible for the earliest complete single project Ring cycle one can now collect on disc (1948 49 under Rudolf Moralt); Furtwängler and the RAI Rome followed a few years later; and the most recent rival to the Hallé’s set (the Hong Kong Philharmonic under Jaap van Zweden) was completed only last year. And that’s not to mention the Berlin Philharmonic under Karajan (studio-recorded first, then performed in the theatre), Ascher Fisch with the Seattle Symphony or the two cycles (Dresden Staatskapelle and Berlin Radio Symphony) under Marek Janowski. A long time ago (although within living memory) a concert based symphony orchestra was often considered a better option for recording Wagner’s tricky part-writing; nowadays we tend to prefer the natural practical experience of a band used to playing with singers.

One of Elder’s principal achievements in this cycle – and nowhere more so than in this newcomer – is that he has got this special sheen of stage experience from his symphony orchestra. It’s more than just a question of thoroughly accomplished technical playing; it’s a question of living with and feeling the drama of these scores through the colour and pace of their rendering of the score. For that alone these recordings deserve a competitive place in today’s catalogues from which you can now access around 40 recordings of the complete cycle. Elder has also deepened and refined his own handling of Wagner, balancing a Reginald Goodall-like quest for detail – and integrating some quite generous tempos – with a Furtwängler- or Solti-like attention to the drama.

The casting, as throughout the cycle, shows awareness of new and upcoming achievements. To state the obvious, Siegfried is a big sing, and Simon O’Neill – whose clear attention to and projection of the text is both praiseworthy and ever-increasing – can sound pushed in heavier passages into a thinner, more ‘character’ tone. This doesn’t spoil an overall impression of youthful ardour and freshness of approach, an important common factor throughout this cast, be it in the approaches of the experienced (and here not over-mannered) Mime of Gerhard Siegel or the exciting relative newcomers, Iain Paterson’s Wanderer/Wotan and Rachel Nicholls’s Brünnhilde. As in his Rheingold performance (7/18), Paterson’s god – refreshingly strong in the high-lying passages at the start of Act 3 – is suave and assured without any trace of the cynical manipulator that had become almost a cliché copied from various stage productions. Nicholls sounds every inch the fresh and young Valkyrie, without that mock goddess grandeur that many older interpreters have brought to this part of the role. Her text is not quite as ‘in’ the voice yet as it will surely become but the emotions are clarion-clear.

The newness of approach, evidently relished by the conductor, is further touched on in Malin Christensson’s clear but full-sounding Woodbird and the Siegfried’s horn-playing of the young, BBC award-winning Ben Goldscheider, which really does sound fresh and rustic, not like knocking off a routine practised umpteen times before. Strong contributions also from, especially, Martin Winkler’s Alberich (quite frightening in his confrontation with Wotan), Clive Bayley’s Fafner (with a voice trumpet that sounds more acoustic than electric) and Anna Larsson’s familiar Erda. As before in the cycle, the recording presents thoroughly convincing balances for the work.

An outstanding achievement, then, and one which should be placed very high in the ‘form order’ of competing versions – especially of newer Siegfrieds – it’s now almost impossible to draw up. The performance’s concentration makes for compelling and important listening. There’s a link to download a libretto and English translation.

Mike Ashman

Fanfare

Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra here conclude an impressive and unlikely Ring cycle. When the project began, with a similar concert performance of Götterdämmerung in 2009, Elder played down the idea of a complete cycle. Back then, the focus of his press interviews was the sheer magnitude of the task of just one installment, the logistics, the expense, and, most significantly of all, the musical demands made on the orchestra. But success led to success, and 10 years down the line, we now have a complete Ring. Bar Rheingold, each opera was presented over multiple nights, with this Siegfried presented over a weekend in June 2018, acts I and II on the Saturday, act III on the Sunday. The benefit for the CD listener is fresh voices and a fresh-sounding orchestra for the final act, and standards are certainly maintained across this four-CD set, the close as thrilling and atmospheric as the start.

Though well-known in the UK as an established Wagnerian, Elder has been poorly served on record for his Wagner interpretations. He stood in at late notice for a Lohengrin with the Concertgebouw, who went ahead nevertheless with an own-label recording (RCO Live 17002), but for some reason the pieces didn’t fall into place. Similarly, a Parsifal with the Hallé (Hallé 7539) received mixed notices, an aging John Tomlinson the weak link there. So, for complete operas, this Ring cycle would seem to be Elder’s only Wagnerian legacy on record—so far at least. Fortunately, the whole project has been executed to a consistently high standard, and the quality and distinctiveness of the results are largely thanks to Elder’s personal contribution. The Ring operas were all presented in semi-staged performances, meaning concert performances in the Hallé’s Bridgewater Hall, but with the singers coming and going, and interacting with each other. I notice from a press photo that Iain Paterson, as the Wanderer, wore a hat and eye patch, but that was the extent of the costumes and props. Elder makes a virtue of the concert presentation; freed from the constraints of the opera house, he can pace the music on its own terms, and tell the story purely through the score. Throughout this cycle, his tempos have been steady, but this isn’t grand or imperious Wagner, it is more about teasing out the details of the score, and about giving all of the musicians, and particularly the orchestral soloists, the space to inhabit the music. The dramatic flow is never threatened, with Elder demonstrating an intuitive grasp of the structure and pace of each act: The music-making always feels urgent, but never hurried.

One reasonable criticism of this cycle, to which the Siegfried is not exempt, is the feeling that the orchestra always comes first. The Hallé sounds fabulous here, with excellent ensemble from the strings, palpable weight from the lower brass, and characterful solos from the woodwinds. The orchestra also includes a cameo appearance by horn player Ben Goldscheider, a recent finalist in BBC Young Musician, for Siegfried’s Horn Call. He brings plenty of character to it, and, again, Elder gives him plenty of space. The players are well recorded too, the sound clear, vibrant, and involving. The singers are well recorded, but they certainly don’t take precedence over the orchestra, and it is easy to get the feeling that our attention is being drawn to the latter. The packaging bears that out, with the orchestra’s name given first on the cover, and the otherwise skimpy documentation including a full orchestra list.

This isn’t star-driven Wagner then, so it is fortunate that an impressive cast has been gathered nonetheless. There are no international superstars here, but, with one glaring exception, all give convincing and satisfying readings, fully commensurate with Elder’s dramatic but carefully paced approach. In act I, we meet the menacing and dark-toned Mime of Gerhard Siegel, a dominating presence whenever he sings. Scottish bass-baritone Iain Paterson is still in his mid-40s, so is young for the role of the Wanderer. That comes through in a lightness of tone, which may perhaps darken in the years ahead. Dramatically, though, he is ideal, bringing all the necessary shades to this complex role. Act II is well served by the light-toned Malin Christensson as the Woodbird and by Clive Bayley’s eloquent, if not overly bassy, Fafner. The best voice in act III, and probably in the whole opera, is that of Anna Larsson as Erda. Hers is a deep alto, warm and round of tone. She is perfect for the role, and this recording catches her in her prime. Rachel Nicholls doesn’t shine quite as brightly as Brünnhilde, but she too is well cast, with a bright and well-supported tone. She has a heavily pronounced vibrato, but it feels right for the role.

If you haven’t guessed, the big hole in this cast is Simon O’Neill in the title role. He is just wrong for the part, his tone narrow and nasal and all his lines rendered comical by his posh English accent (yes, I know he is from New Zealand). In fairness to him, these are issues of style more than technique, and technically, he is fine, consistently well supported and with excellent intonation and articulation. And others clearly feel differently about him than I do: He has been the Wagner and Verdi tenor of choice (at least when Kaufmann et al have not been available) at Covent Garden, the LSO, and many other British institutions for decades. So, if on the off-chance you do happen to be following his career, this is the first time he has sung this opera, and, for better or worse, it is consistent with all his previous Wagner outings. The Hallé own-label makes a policy of spending money on the sound recording and economizing on the peripherals. So, true to form, this box set comes with a very brief liner, printed on unlamented paper, and just giving a track listing, synopsis (without cue points), and orchestra list. The benefit is a budget price tag that belies the quality of the recording itself. Recommended, then, especially for Mark Elder’s insightful conducting and the vibrant playing of the Hallé, but with a serious proviso attached about the Heldentenor.

Gavin Dixon | Issue 43:1

The Fincial Times

Wagner’s Siegfried — the much anticipated third instalment of the Ring cycle

The Hallé’s subtly blended Wagnerian playing produces a sound-world of matt-tinted majesty

Nobody can accuse Mark Elder and the Hallé of rushing into their Ring cycle. It is 10 years since they started with Götterdämmerung, the last instalment in Wagner’s epic, and the other three operas have followed at a leisurely pace.

With this recording of Siegfried, the third of the four, their cycle is at last complete (they were not recorded in order). Taken from a pair of concert performances last year, it is all of a piece with the earlier recordings in terms of style and atmosphere, even if the singers of the central roles have come and gone on the decade-long journey.

Compared to some other Ring cycles on disc, this one is less obviously plugged into the electric current of the drama. Maybe it would have made a difference if Elder’s Wagner had been recorded in the opera house, but the Hallé’s subtly blended Wagnerian playing produces a highly satisfying sound-world of matt-tinted majesty. Against that, Siegfried, the scherzo of the four, asks for a sharper cut-and-thrust and more energy.

The new Siegfried is Simon O’Neill, who is taking his first steps with this most impossibly taxing of Wagner’s tenor roles. He lacks the depth of tone that can give the character a heroic dimension, but his Siegfried is bright, sure of voice and tireless.

There is experienced support from Gerhard Siegel’s vivid Mime, Martin Winkler’s unexaggerated Alberich and Anna Larsson’s grave Erda. Iain Paterson, a well-chosen Wanderer to match Elder’s approach, sings with compassion and dignity. Rachel Nicholls is a gleaming Brünnhilde. It is possible to find Ring cycles that offer more thrills and spills. The Hallé takes its Wagner seriously and the maturity of its approach will certainly find admirers.

Richard Fairman | MAY 31, 2019

The Guardian

roaring jubilation and radiant beauty from Elder and the Hallé

Mark Elder is a superb Wagnerian, drawing a tremendous performance from the Hallé and vivid power from soloists in this semi-staging of the Ring-cycle opera

Mark Elder and the Hallé opened their exploration of Wagner’s Ring with Götterdämmerung in 2009, adding Die Walküre and Das Rheingold in 2011 and 2016 respectively, before completing their cycle with this often momentous performance of Siegfried, semi-staged by Gerard Jones and spread over two nights.

Siegfried is traditionally dubbed the scherzo of the Ring, as if we are to think of it as something lightweight between two grander, darker statements. The description is wide of the mark, though, and in many respects this is the most difficult opera of the four to accomplish successfully. The tone, embracing nightmare as well as humour, is ambivalent. The dramaturgy, with its colloquies and monologues, has something of the austerity of classical tragedy, and stretches of the work can seem uneventful if not carefully handled. Then there is the problem of the title role, the most strenuous and taxing in Wagner’s output: great interpreters have, regrettably, been few and far between.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest A great interpreter … Mark Elder. Photograph: Mark Allan Elder is a superb Wagnerian, acutely conscious of the complex relationship between tempo and pace, and immaculate in his judgment both of the span of each act and the ebb and flow of detail within it. Thrilling climaxes alternated with moments of astonishing beauty and quiet, almost exquisite terror. The roaring jubilation of the forging scene overwhelmed with its excitement. The Forest Murmurs have rarely sounded so ravishing. Mime’s paranoid fears of Fafner opened up expressionistic vistas of hallucinatory intensity, and there were intimations of great tenderness in the love duet, which in lesser hands can teeter on bombast. Marvellously responsive, the Hallé played with deep fervour and a burnished warmth of sound.

The title role was sung by , an established Siegmund and Parsifal: Siegfried is new to his repertory. He used a score, while the other performers sang from memory, which meant that he wasn’t as fully integrated into Jones’s simple yet effective semi-staging as he might have been. His voice is fractionally too small for the role, his tone metallic and cutting rather than immense, but he brought a clean sense of line to music that these days is too frequently yelled or barked. His singing was under-characterised, but there were flashes of insight in the gratuitous glee with which he attacked ’s Mime and the wonder with which he gazed on Rachel Nicholls’ sleeping Brünnhilde.

There was some splendid singing elsewhere, however. Siegel, a former Siegfried himself, made the most wonderful Mime, by turns sympathetic and horribly malign, while Martin Winkler, exuding sinister charisma, was an equally outstanding Alberich, among the finest of recent years. His scene with Iain Paterson’s sorrowful, knowingly ironic Wotan was a real highlight, as was Paterson’s anguished later colloquy with Anna Larsson’s tragic Erda. Nicholls, a fine vocal actor, sounded radiant in her long duet with O’Neill. Ultimately though, the performance belonged to Elder and the Hallé, whose achievement was simply tremendous.

Tim Ashley | 4 June 2019

Rating
(5/10)
User Rating
(3/5)
Media Type/Label
Hallé
Technical Specifications
1.0 Mbit/s VBR, 44.1 kHz, 2.2 GByte (flac)
Remarks
Concert performance
This recording is part of a complete Ring cycle.