ALBUM TITLE: Wagner
PERFORMER: Simon O’Neill, David Cangelosi, Matthias Goerne, Werner Van Mechelen, Falk Struckmann, Valentina Farcas, Deborah Humble, Heidi Melton; Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra/Jaap van Zweden
CATALOGUE NO: 8.660413-16 241:18 mins (4 discs)
Despite a slightly tentative Das Rheingold, Naxos’s Ring is becoming a serious contender – and exceptional value, too. Jaap van Zweden still isn’t the most nuanced Wagner conductor, but his sweeping, dramatic reading continues to grow. Siegfried has been called the Ring’s scherzo, and he evokes both its youthful energy and darker undercurrents, with excellent playing from the augmented Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra.
His first act flies swiftly, unusually fitting onto a single CD, his Act II lyricism rightly unhurried. And, as before, he has a top-drawer cast. Matthias Goerne caps his Walküre Wotan with a distinguished Wanderer, relishing his sardonic, ambiguous lines and shading his already dark tones with sadness and regret. Werner Van Mechelen’s Alberich isn’t ideally sinister, but sings rather than barks, as does David Cangelosi’s forceful Mime. Falk Struckmann’s dragon is leathery-voiced but well characterised, Deborah Humble a richly numinous Erda, and Valentina Farcas’s Woodbird trills elegantly judged. Heidi Melton’s Brünnhilde is slightly less convincing; her bright soprano seems less powerful and steady than on stage, her phrasing sometimes awkward, in ‘Ewig war ich’ for example.
But every Siegfried hangs on the title role, and Simon O’Neill’s steely, bright-toned heldentenor encompasses this killer part with deceptive ease, even the forging scene’s ringing high notes, and only moments of dryness. If he misses some character points, he also manages to suggest youthful ardour without thuggishness. I’ve heard none finer in recent years. Add vivid if rather upfront recording (potentially amazing on Blu-ray) and you have a highly enjoyable performance.
Michael Scott Rohan