Notes and Editorial Reviews
“…The hero, here as before, is the conductor, Joseph Keilberth. He sustains tension, and momentum too, from the first mysterious chord to the final exultant cadence. He favors brisk tempos…yet he always seems to breathe with his singers, never seems to rush. He knows precisely where the climaxes are and, more important, knows how to distribute their weight. There is rare grandeur here, and rare drama as well. At his urging, the Bayreuth orchestra roars, soars and whispers, always a prime player in the exposition…Hans Hotter, the definitive Wotan of his time…dominates the performance with equal parts power and sensitivity….He is so heroic, so wily, so subtle, so poignant, ultimately so human that fleeting patches of strain seem
irrelevant…The harmonious Rheinmaiden trio is led exquisitely by Maria Graf, and Maria von Ilosvay stops the actions warm as an exceptionally potent Erda. And so the wonders continue.”
- Martin Bernheimer, OPERA NEWS
Das Rheingold marks the third installment of the so-called "missing" Ring from 1955, recorded by Decca live at Bayreuth, and only issued for the first time more than 50 years after the fact. The performance matches this series' predecessors (Siegfried and Die Walküre) in several respects. For starters, Decca's early stereophony conveys a realistic, dynamic, and vividly detailed stage/orchestra pit relationship. Perhaps too realistic: a "rushing" stage effect that sounds either like tape hiss or rainfall dominates Scene 3 (Mike Ashman's wonderful booklet notes refer to an electronic device used to replicate the sound of hammering anvils), while inevitable creaks, thumps, and other stage noises are par for the course.
Secondly, it's instructive to hear a cast of (mostly) first-rate individualists truly lock horns ensemble-wise and brilliantly convey the story's colorful intrigues and conflicts. For instance, when Gustav Neidlinger (Alberich) flirts with the Rheinmaidens, his singular bass-baritone takes on lighter colorations that contrast to the menacing boom he unleashes when cursing the Ring. Similarly, tenor Rudolf Lustig projects Loge's manipulative mood swings without enacting them, while Paul Kuen totally nails Mime's hapless nature yet avoids caricature (in other words, he sings the notes, or at least most of them!).
As the Giants, Josef Greindl and the veteran Ludwig Weber delightfully play off each other. Among the women, Hertha Wilfert's vital Freia and the youthful yet authoritative Fricka of Georgine von Millinkovic stand out. Only the slightly wobbly Erda (Maria von Ilosvay) and Flosshilde (Maria Graf) fall below this Bayreuth vintage's usually stellar norm.
Wagner lovers familiar with Hans Hotter's classic Wotan portrayal via other notable Bayreuth Rings (Kraus 1953, Knappertsbusch 1956) will find their hero on responsive and resplendent form here, helped by Joseph Keilberth's vivacious, decisive, and fully supportive conducting. Save for a few tentative patches in the cruelly exposed Prelude and some awful trumpet playing during the descent into Niebelheim, the Bayreuth Orchestra plays superbly, especially the strings. Bravo to Testament for making this available. I eagerly await Götterdämmerung.
--Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
Das Rheingold by Richard Wagner
Josef Greindl (Bass),
Hans Hotter (Baritone),
Maria von Ilosvay (Mezzo Soprano),
Georgine von Milinkovic (Mezzo Soprano),
Rudolf Lustig (Tenor),
Toni Blankenheim (Bass Baritone),
Josef Traxel (Tenor),
Herta Wilfert (Soprano),
Elisabeth Schärtel (Alto),
Jutta Vulpius (Soprano),
Maria Graf (Mezzo Soprano),
Ludwig Weber (Bass),
Paul Kuen (Tenor),
Gustav Neidlinger (Bass Baritone)
Bayreuth Festival Orchestra,
Bayreuth Festival Chorus
Written: 1854; Germany
Date of Recording: 1955
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