Orchestral Music from Der Ring des Nibelungen
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
JoAnn Falletta, conductor
There are already several recordings that present Wagner’s orchestral works. One of the most famous is for sure the old album recorded by George Szell with the Cleveland Orchestra which we reviewed some time ago and that has the evocative title Wagner Without Words, but this is only one of many. The purpose of these recordings is to draw the listener’s attention to Wagner’s ability as a symphonist and to focus on the richness and splendour of his orchestral palette.
Despite the large number of recordings, the present one deserves some attention for its exquisite outcome. The selected music is limited to the Orchestral Music from Der Ring des Nibelungen, but it is wonderfully performed by conductor JoAnn Falletta together with the ensemble she directs since 1999, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.
Orchestral Music from Der Ring des Nibelungen: an Overview
As in her other recordings and performances, Falletta is as an accomplished and sensitive conductor. Her majestic and generous approach reveals her ability to find the right tempo, shades and colours. Her skill to create long, uninterrupted lines gives the impression that the flow of music is not only sumptuous, but endless and fluid. This music seems therefore naturally light and soft. The result is that Wagner’s works have magical, deeply atmospheric passages, developed with insight and elegance.
The orchestral sound is rich and soulful and is particularly precious in the silky sound of the woodwinds and in the rounded, burnished tone of the brasses. The strings for their part produce a full, open sound.
Das Rheingold and Die Walküre
The first piece of the collection is the Entrance of the Gods into Valhalla from Das Rheingold. Falletta conducts it with the solemnity that suits a procession. The precision and the fluidity she elicits from her orchestra really gives the idea of a slow and grave entrance. The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra is remarkable for the smoothness of its playing. The ease with which its orchestral forces blend together is stunning.
The effect is even more amazing in a “spectacular” piece as the Ride of the Valkyries and above all in the memorable Wotan’s Farewell-Magic Fire Music from Die Walküre. In this piece, Falletta finds a wide variety of colours, ranging from the darker to the lighter shades, and combines them in the most effective way.
Siegfried and Götterdämmerung
Of course the orchestral effects are remarkable especially in Forest Murmurs, the only piece from Siegfried. It opens with a soft and “pastoral” sound that really gives the idea of the hero who stops to contemplate the beauty of nature. Falletta gives prominence to nature and its features and the orchestra makes a representation that is ecstatic and rapturous in the first part and that ends lavishly thanks to the luxurious sounds of the instruments.
The same evocative passages, but more robustly florid and vibrant, characterize Siegfried’s Rhine Journey from Götterdämmerung. Here, the blend between the silky strings and woodwinds and the blazing brasses creates an opulent picture with the fine balance of their forces.
Siegfried’s Funeral March is an immersion in a gloomy and funereal world. In this case, Falletta creates an atmosphere which is heavy without being oppressive, not even in the first bars. Here, the atmosphere is mournful, but never so morbid to exclude the warmer sound, the lustrous colours that shortly after will take the place of the initial sadness.
The last piece is Brünnhilde’s Immolation Scene. Falletta conducts this work with magnificence and stylishness, with many changing of colours, but with impressive unity throughout. The orchestra plays solemnly and, in the final part, with pathos.
Among the many recordings of Wagner’s orchestral music, JoAnn Falletta’s deverves a place of honour. It is outstanding not only for the conductor’s skill and infallible taste, but also for the refined playing of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. The seven works of this collection are performed superbly and with attention to every detail. They really give the idea of Wagner’s finesse as a symphonist.