By turns voluptuous and rousing, the London Philharmonic Orchestra played Wagner with all its collective heart and soul as Vladimir Jurowski delivered an unforgettable account of Der Ring des Nibelungen, episode 2. Longtime pit colleagues at Glyndebourne, the polished teamwork of conductor and orchestra was hardly surprising; but the chance to watch their finely gauged interpretation unfold on the Royal Festival Hall platform was a privilege. It was poetry for the eyes as well as the ears.

Ruxandra Donose and Stuart Skelton © Simon Jay Price
Ruxandra Donose and Stuart Skelton
© Simon Jay Price

You’ll have gathered that I was mostly enthralled by this concert performance of Die Walküre, so let me confess to having arrived late and witnessed most of Act 1 via a television screen with inadequate sound. I missed the opening storm, which I’m informed was embellished by a wind machine (curious…), but I was able to make out the stylish and machismo-fresh performances of Stuart Skelton as Siegmund and Stephen Milling as Hunding – a clash of titans if ever there was one. The antagonists’ baleful energy and raw musical passion were enhanced by speedy tempo choices from Jurowski that made this elemental act hurtle to its end. Ruxandra Donose, a mezzo Sieglinde, offered a counterpoint to the men's antler-locking: her singing combined a sweetly shaded clarity with a layer of fragility that ensured the audience was properly concerned for her wellbeing.

Claudia Mahnke and Markus Marquardt © Simon Jay Price
Claudia Mahnke and Markus Marquardt
© Simon Jay Price

The evening’s glory, however, belonged to another mezzo-soprano. Claudia Mahnke’s intervention as Fricka was breathtaking, not only because her vocal power glowed with assurance and power, with every note evenly produced across the range and every word clarion-clear, but because she breathed such vivid life into her character. A mere concert Walküre this may have been, but Mahnke’s Fricka arrived fully formed and her utterances were driven by an unmissable conviction.

The German mezzo’s passing triumph somewhat eclipsed the Wotan of Markus Marquardt and Svetlana Sozdateleva’s Brünnhilde. To describe these artists as adequate is to damn with faint praise, but in the context of a fiery, high-quality overall performance, they fell a little short. Their extended duologue in Act 3 is the opera’s raison d’être – it sets up everything that is to come – but the singing from both singers was insufficiently focused. Anger was duly angry and pity suitably pitiful, but heartfelt communication and dramatic progression were at a premium. Neither artist found the beating heart of their respective characters and the emotional hit of that soaring final hour emerged as a lame exchange between two competent professionals.

Svetlana Sozdateleva © Simon Jay Price
Svetlana Sozdateleva
© Simon Jay Price

The great advantage of a concert-hall semi-staging is that directorial vanity seldom intervenes and the composer's wishes are sacrosanct. One common downside, however, is the challenge of ensuring a suitable balance between singers and orchestra. Jurowski showed admirable awareness of this potential pitfall and could regularly be seen attenuating the volume to assist his soloists; so why then, why, did he confine his octet of Valkyries to the choir stalls? From such a distance the visceral excitement of their great “Hojotoho” could only be diminished – and so it was, despite the presence of some stellar singers among their number. Hanna Hipp, Alwyn Mellor et al deserved better.

****1