Those opening bars of the prelude set the seal on the performance with their menacing ruggedness. No, don’t misread me: there is not a trace of ruggedness about the actual playing. On the contrary the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra is an impressive band with silken strings and excellently balanced wind. The ruggedness is in the music, and so it should be since we come into the action in the midst of a ferocious hunt where Siegmund is running for dear life. This is caught to perfection by Asher Fisch, who all through the performance has a firm grip on the proceedings, never lets the tension slacken. At the same time he is careful to show Wagner’s exquisite chamber music qualities in the many lyrical moments of this remarkable score. The first Siegmund – Sieglinde scene, to give just one example, has an intimacy to challenge even Karajan’s. Without making direct comparisons with existing recordings from the last half-century I would gladly place Asher Fisch among the top contenders – and I have taken Solti, Karajan, Boulez and Barenboim into the reckoning. If there is a hero on this recording it is Asher Fisch.But there are other heroes as well. There is not a weak link among the soloists and it seems that each and every one of the eight Valkyries could have taken on any of the main female roles. The first of them to be heard, Elizabeth Stannard’s Gerhilde, displays a glorious voice, but so do they all. I complained about ‘wobblers’ when reviewing parts of the Haenchen/Amsterdam cycle on DVD recently but this mainly Australian team is remarkable for the steadiness of the singing. The first voice to be heard after the prelude, Stuart Skelton’s Siegmund, is a major find. I heard him four years ago in Vienna when he stepped in at very short notice for Gösta Winbergh who died suddenly in his sleep. As Florestan in Fidelio he showed himself a Heldentenor. Two and a half years later, when this Walküre was recorded he was already a fully fledged dramatic tenor with tremendous power and expressiveness and also capable of much sensitive lyrical singing. Just listen to Den Vater fand ich nicht (CD1 track 9). His voice reminds me of the great James King: it is beautiful, manly and steady and seemingly with inexhaustible lung capacity. His cries "Wälse! Wälse!" In the aria "Ein Schwert verhiess mir der Vater" (CD1 track 13) seem to last forever ... Deborah Riedel is an impassioned Sieglinde and matches Skelton excellently. Hers is also a large voice, vibrant and beautiful and her glowing "Du bist der Lenz" (CD1 track 17) gives you goose-pimples. She has a whole array of nuances at her disposal, as witnessed in act II, Hinweg! Hinweg! (CD3 track 3). Richard Green impresses greatly with his black bass; his declamation is excellent. I have heard few better Hundings. Elizabeth Campbell is a youngish-sounding Fricka, something to be grateful for when this role so often is taken by elderly mezzos on their way to retirement. A lot has been written about Lisa Gasteen lately and it is easy to understand why when hearing her impressive Brünnhilde. She delivers a high-octane Hoyotoho! (CD2 tracks 2-3) and also sings with great feeling and understanding of the role. The long final scene with Wotan reveals that she may well be the Brünnhilde of this decade and the next. I am already looking forward to Götterdämmerung which is due for release next year.
All of these singers impress greatly but the question is if John Bröcheler’s Wotan isn’t the performance to overtrump all the others. He is the Wotan of the Amsterdam Ring which I have reviewed recently and excellent as he was there he is even finer here. He makes a furious God, snarling, shouting, menacing and so expressive that he is almost visibly tangible even in this sound-only recording. And in the final scene he is so fatherly warm, so touching … singing more or less to himself. Not even Hans Hotter at the height of his powers was more human. If I were asked to point out the best selling-point of this set I would play "Der Augen leuchtendes Paar" (CD4 track 16). I wonder who can resist his singing there.
This Walküre was recorded during performances but with a very well-behaved audience. Only the applause after each act reveals that they were there. The discs come in an elegant hardback book with excellent documentation and texts and translations. In every respect this is a high quality product that will have an honoured place in my collection.