For someone brought up on Verdi and Bellini, Wagner’s Ring cycle has always been something of a daunting prospect. Eighteen hours of densely packed music is a large mouthful, even when the subject matter is a childhood favourite of Norse mythology and when the music has an outstanding reputation as being vibrant, intense and ground-breaking for its day.

So I was bound to be intrigued by the idea of condensing the important bits into a single one hour concert performance, which is what was done by Dutch composer Henk de Vlieger in his “The Ring, An Orchestral Adventure”, created in 1991 and recently recorded on a Chandos CD by Neeme Järvi with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, accompanied by live performances last week in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Järvi has credibility on the Norse mythology part: his recording with the Gothenburg Symphony of Sibelius's Lemminkäinen suite, based on the Finnish epic the Kalevala, is one of the most entrancing pieces of orchestral music in my collection. Certainly, the quality of the recording and playing does not disappoint. Järvi excels in bringing out the richness and multiple layering of the music, every tempo sounds perfect, and the control of dynamics allows the themes to take hold of you and relax their grip .

The piece needs many listenings, simply in order to appreciate the way in which Wagner creates themes, and then develops them and weaves them together to build others. In each part of the work, you hear hints of what is to come, preparing your ears for the next scene.

For me, the unquestioned highlight comes early on in the shape of the Ride of the Valkyries. The main theme is famous to the point of being hackneyed, but listening closely makes one realise the subtlety of the music: and there is a wealth of material happening in the background, often including a second copy of the theme in a different register. It's the interworking of so many different elements that brings you steadily to such a fever pitch of excitement.

According to the sleeve notes and an interview given by Järvi on Radio 3, De Vlieger set himself some ambitious goals, namely to create a piece that sounds like a coherent, symphonically written whole, rather than a string of greatest hits played in succession, and to do so while adding minimal amounts of original material. I was only partially convinced: some of the scenes follow on seamlessly, but there are occasional abrupt transitions which feel like a complete break between episodes and remind one that this is really a set of edited highlights.

But overall, the work succeeds. Hardened Ring fans will get a concentrated 60 minute dose of much beloved music, played outstandingly. Initiates like me will listen to a wealth of new material and realise how great is the beauty, strength and variety they are missing out on. Maybe that eighteen hours is just worth tackling...

David 29th February 2008