Notes and Editorial Reviews
This four-disc issue has been intelligently compiled to include many noted extracts from The Ring, recorded in the quarter of a century following the end of the Second World War (Fischer-Dieskau's account of Wotan's Farewell, the least satisfactory item here, dates from later, 1977). One's pleasure in hearing these discs is somewhat tempered by all the 'might-have-beens' they suggest — the complete cycles we might have had from Kempe, Konwitschny, Kubelik or Klemperer, all notable Wagnerians, but we must at least be grateful that so much great Wagnerian singing has been preserved.
We start with Kempe's treasured excerpts from the first and last scene of Das Rheingold, which confirm his lyrical and forward-moving direction of
the cycle (I was nurtured on his Covent Garden Ring performances in the 1950s), and the superb engineering in Berlin at that period; the early stereo sound is quite arresting. The Berlin cast is headed by Benno Kusche's appropriately venomous Alberich. Helmut Melchert's Loge and Ferdinand Frantz's worthy Wotan are also heard to advantage. The Rhinemaidens, headed by Lisa Otto's fresh Woglinde, are an articulate trio.
The first of these generously filled CDs also has the often-reissued version of the Todesverkundigung, sung with classic integrity by Flagstad and Svanholm and ably supported by Böhm. It is completed by Fischer-Dieskau's Act 3 Abschied, which is too forceful and didactic. What a pity Norman Bailey's account with Klemperer wasn't chosen instead. That first appeared on the fourth side of the two LPs otherwise devoted to Act 1 of Die Walküre, never reissued until now. It is an epic, slow performance, as you would expect from the veteran conductor, justified by the sense of line maintained throughout. The young Dernesch is an impassioned Sieglinde, matching feeling with beauty of tone and phrase. She is partnered by the somewhat phlegmatic William Cochran. The youthful Sotin is a somewhat impassive but powerful Hunding.
The third CD starts with perhaps the most important reissue of all — the 1957 recording of Nilsson and Hotter in the final scene of Die Walküre, sounding immediate in Walter Legge's exemplary production (has recording really improved in the intervening 37 years?) with magnificent playing from the great Philharmonia of that era supporting Hotter's nonpareil of a Wotan, so noble and eloquent, and Nilsson's deeply felt and ideally sung Brünnhilde: she was then at the beginning of her career in that role and sings with clear, gleaming tone. The partnership is heard here to greater advantage than in the complete 1965 Solti set on Decca (4/85). Ludwig is the impressive conductor.
The second item on this CD is the finale of Siegfried, dating from 1951, again with Flagstad and Svanholm, she radiant and joyous, he as reliable as ever (if a trifle stretched), somewhat hampered by Sebastian's stodgy conducting, though he cannot prevent the Philharmonia playing wondrously. The same verdict applies to the Prologue duet from Gotterdanmerung that opens the fourth disc. Conducting standards rise with the young Sawallisch's vivid account with the Philharmonia (recorded in 1958) of Siegfried's Rhine Journey (later he is heard in the Funeral March). Frick's implacable and sinister Hagen is caught marvellously on another amazingly lifelike late 1950s recording made in Berlin, which has Konwitschny as the vital conductor.
The challenge between Brünnhilde and Siegfried in Act 2 of Götterdämmerung is vividly enacted by Flagstad and Svanholm on a 1951 recording only discovered in 1987. Finally, we have the better (1948) version of the studio-made Flagstad/Furtwangler Immolation with both soprano and conductor giving a lesson in interpreting this music, at once heroic and tragic; it would be hard to imagine a more glorious conclusion to the opera — or to this invaluable, lovingly transferred set, reminding us of the glorious Wagner singing to be heard in the late 1940s and 1950s.
-- Gramophone [10, 1994]
Works on This Recording
Der Ring des Nibelungen: Excerpt(s) by Richard Wagner
Benno Kusche (Baritone),
Kirsten Flagstad (Soprano),
Lisa Otto (Soprano),
Helga Dernesch (Soprano),
Birgit Nilsson (Soprano),
Ruth Siewert (Alto),
Sieglinde Wagner (Mezzo Soprano),
Set Svanholm (Tenor),
Helmut Melchert (Tenor),
Josef Metternich (Baritone),
Hans Hotter (Bass Baritone),
Hans Sotin (Bass),
Gottlob Frick (Bass),
Ferdinand Frantz (Bass Baritone),
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (Baritone),
William Cochran (Tenor),
Rudolf Schock (Tenor),
Melitta Muszely (Soprano),
Johanna Blatter (Mezzo Soprano)
Written: 1853-1874; Germany
Featured Sound Samples
Das Rheingold: Scene 4: "Abendlich strahlt der Sonne Auge" (Ferdinand Frantz)
Die Walküre: Act II: Scene 4: "Siegmund! Sieh auf mich!" (Kirsten Flagstad, Set Svanholm)
Götterdämmerung: Act II: Scene 3: "Hoiho! Hoihohoho!" (Gottlob Frick)
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