The London Philharmonic’s Ring with Vladimir Jurowski goes, it would seem, from strength to strength. Presenting one opera a year, they have now reached Siegfried, though when Götterdämmerung is added in 2021 it will form part of two performances of the complete cycle. So far, the bar has beeen raised with each instalment, conductor and orchestra becoming more fully immersed in each successive work. Though, as with the previous operas, there are occasional vocal inequalities, much of this can only be described as a thing of wonder, generating a fierce excitement that on occasion took my breath away.
Jurowski has, if anything, refined and honed his approach to Wagner over time. As with Das Rheingold and Die Walküre, his judgement of the relationship between speed and pace, and his ability to hold us in the moment while thinking in terms of cumulative span, remains immaculate. Here, in what has often been dubbed the Ring’s “scherzo”, there was perhaps greater energy, tautness and dramatic fire.
With the LPO on tremendous form, he prised open textures with vivid immediacy, from the baleful opening with its sinister bassoons to the strings and woodwind seething with excitement in the final interlude, as Siegfried ascends the mountain to awaken Brünnhilde. The Nibelung ostinato wound its way through the first two acts like an unnerving, obsessive refrain. There was some exceptional string-playing in the whirring, harmonically unstable passages that suggest the fear that consumes Mime, but which Siegfried himself is initially unable to feel. And the final love duet, which in lesser hands can turn curiously bombastic, boiled over with elation and genuine ecstasy.
Siegfried and Brünnhilde were played by Torsten Kerl and Elena Pankratova. Kerl aroused mixed feelings throughout. With gleaming top notes and an almost baritonal lower register, he possesses the stamina for the role, though the voice itself is fractionally too small and he didn’t always fully employ the dynamic and expressive range that is clearly within his powers. The crucial line “Starb meine Mutter an mir?” was delivered with rapt introspection, of which we could have done with more during the course of the evening. In the second act, however, to everyone’s delight, he picked up a cor anglais to play Siegfried’s misguided attempt to mimic the Woodbird’s song himself.
Pankratova, meanwhile, is a remarkable Wagner diva on this showing, grand in manner and passionately expressive, with electrifying top notes and an extraordinary tone compounding silk and steel.
Evgeny Nikitin made a noble, sorrowing Wanderer, fierce in his confrontation with Robert Hayward’s formidable, unspeakably malevolent Alberich, but tiring a little by the time he reached his tragic colloquy with Anna Larsson’s gravely sung Erda. Adrian Thompson’s funny yet dangerous Mime was all obsessive hatred, self-loathing and manipulative malice. Brindley Sherratt was the cavernous-sounding Fafner, Alina Adamski the silvery voiced Woodbird. No director was credited for the simple, straightforward semi-staging, strikingly lit by Rob Casey, though just occasionally Pierre Martin’s video projections – a bear with which Siegfried terrifies Mime, a cobra for Fafner, a wheeling flock of birds, sporadic flashes of lightning – got in the way. Ultimately, as on previous occasions, the evening belonged to Jurowski and his orchestra, who were simply astonishing throughout.