Notes and Editorial Reviews
Eugen Jochum, cond; Wolfgang Windgassen (
); Birgit Nilsson (
); Hermann Uhde (
Frederick of Telramund
); Astrid Varnay (
); Theo Adam (
); Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (
); Bayreuth Festival Ch & O
OPERA D’ORO 7086 (4 CDs: 206:09
Text and Translation) Live: Bayreuth 1954
This live 1954 recording of
has been circulating for decades, first on one label, then on another. William Youngren reviewed it six years ago (
29:3) on Archipel 0281. Here it’s spread out on four discs, and comes with a generally good essay, along with a full, bilingual libretto. He liked the performance quite a bit; I like it still further. Here are my reactions to the performers.
Where Youngren finds Wolfgang Windgassen’s Lohengrin a matter of “straightforwardness and conviction,” I find it an exceptional artistic document, and only held back by the limitations of the tenor’s voice. If “Nin sei bedankt” isn’t secure, “Nun hört!” is the Knight of the Swan to the life; and his calling out of Telramund is exemplary. Again, “Atmest du nicht” finds the upper range unable to respond properly, but the phrasing is warm and supple. The beginning of “In fernem Land” is as soft and rapt, yet clearly enunciated, as one could wish.
Birgit Nilsson displays some lovely diminuendo effects, but at louder levels the steel appears that renders her a true Valkyrie among Elsas. “Euch Lüften” begins with a soft purity that all too easily gives way to strength. To her credit, she blends well with Windgassen in act III. Astrid Varnay supplies a great performance, caught before her wobble set in. Vocally fearless, she also excels at dissembling before Elsa. Hermann Uhde is the best Telramund on record, in my opinion. True, at nearly 40, and working himself excessively, the upper range of Uhde’s baritone frays; but the deeper notes sound clear, and the dark coloration is intense and effective, the chest support firm. All of this gives no hint of Uhde’s extraordinary gift for characterization, perhaps best heard both in his Dutchman and here. The power, solidity, and pushing strength of his accusation scene make all the more impressive his abrupt descent after a battle, in which his loss was as much spiritual and mental as it was physical.
Youngren writes of Theo Adam’s “rather gentle voice and weak lower range,” yet I find his voice strong in its upper range, if not well focused below. He sings with ease, phrases intelligently, and conveys an understanding of the words. King Henry is not meant to impress in himself, but to set the stage for more impressive figures. For me, the characterization works. Finally, Eugen Jochum is a galvanizing force on the podium, moving the static, ceremonial sections of the work forward, and keeping a lyric pulse throughout. The sound is quite good, with forward placement to the hidden microphones, and good balance between voices and orchestra.
My favorite recording of
bar none is currently out of print, but will probably show up again, and soon. It was recorded with the Berlin Staatsoper under Robert Heger, in 1942. Franz Völker has a sweetness as Lohengrin that has never been equaled in my opinion, unless it’s by Charles Kullman, who made some sensational recordings in the 1930s while appearing at the Berlin Staatsoper and later at the Vienna State Opera. Maria Müller is a dream Elsa, and Margarete Klose is the finest, scariest Ortrud I have ever experienced. (Her “Entweihte Götter!” equals Varnay in voice, but distills within it more gall and viciousness.) Only Jaro Prohaska’s competent but dull Telramund lets the team down. Uhde is far better than Prohaska, but the rest of the cast more than evens things out—which is why this falls into my second tier of favored
s. Still, it’s a very good one, with strong leadership at the helm. I’d urge you to watch for the 1942 Heger
, but not to miss the chance to hear this one.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
Works on This Recording
Lohengrin by Richard Wagner
Wolfgang Windgassen (Tenor),
Franz Crass (Bass),
Birgit Nilsson (Soprano),
Toni Blankenheim (Baritone),
Hermann Uhde (Baritone),
Astrid Varnay (Alto),
Gerhard Stolze (Tenor),
Theo Adam (Bass),
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (Baritone),
Eugene Tobin (Tenor)
Bayreuth Festival Orchestra,
Bayreuth Festival Chorus
Written: 1846-1847; Germany
Date of Recording: 1954
Venue: Live Festspielhaus, Bayreuth, Germany
Be the first to review this title