Music review: BBC SSO & Ryan Wigglesworth, City Halls, Glasgow

In Götterdämmerung – A Symphonic Journey, Ryan Wigglesworth has condensed Wagner’s five-hour epic into just 50 minutes, yet it still manages to be emotionally captivating, writes Ken Walton

BBC SSO & Ryan Wigglesworth, City Halls, Glasgow ***

Wagner’s Götterdämmerung, the final opera in his epic Ring Cycle, normally lasts up to five hours. Ryan Wigglesworth’s distillation, Götterdämmerung – A Symphonic Journey, comes in at a mere 50 minutes, with only one singing character (Brünnhilde’s climactic Immolation scene remaining sacrosanct), which anyone antipathetic towards Wagner’s prolixity may possibly savour as the preferred option.

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Wigglesworth’s compaction was the mainstay of this ambitious BBC SSO programme, which he himself conducted. And with the orchestra swelled to Wagnerian proportions – visually out of kilter with the meagre audience – there was no short-changing the volume.

Ryan Wigglesworth PIC: BBC / Gordon Burniston
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True, the City Halls acoustic strained at times to comfortably contain the fullness of the climaxes, something that won’t be an issue in Sunday’s repeat performance at the Usher Hall, but otherwise Wigglesworth’s careful slicing and dicing of the original much preserved the potent nourishment of Wagner’s ideal.

It’s most fulfilling moment came with soprano Katherine Broderick, her glorious self-sacrificing peroration expressed vocally with ecstatic passion and piercing magnitude. Here, the “journey” was at its most emotionally captivating, where you felt that Wigglesworth, as conductor, had found his own groove, inspiring a more naturally aroused ebb and flow from the SSO than the earlier orchestral stages permitted.

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The concert opened with the UK premiere of Danish composer Hans Abrahamsen’s Vers le silence, which takes its inspiration from the four elements. While that was crisply evident in the perceptive colour treatments he applies to each of his four movements, there’s a sense that the first three attempt the same thing in slightly different ways, like groundhog day.

Wigglesworth and the SSO did well to extract the piece’s kaleidoscopic strengths, ear-piercing pronouncements repeatedly dissolving into murkier meanderings. If anything, though, it lacked a compelling soul.

Programme to be repeated at the Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 20 November, www.bbc.co.uk/bbcsso