Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is the second release in the much-awaited, almost legendary "missing" Ring from 1955 that was professionally recorded live at Bayreuth and then dumped because producer John Culshaw and Decca thought the future of opera was in the studio. As with the Siegfried, the performance is magnificent--perhaps it is the best Walküre on disc. The true stereo sound is lush and honest, so don't worry about that; those who know tell me it ideally captures the unique covered-pit acoustics of the Bayreuth Festspielhaus.
Joseph Keilberth was not a conductor of any eccentricities or depth-added interpretations. He doesn't examine each phrase à la Knappertsbusch, nor does he try for Karajan's chamber-music approach;
he's uninterested in knocking you out of your seat à la Solti, and does not present a world-view as somber and all-encompassing as Furtwängler's. He tells a great story, much like Clemens Krauss. The opening storm is fearsome; the sensual Siegmund/Sieglinde relationship is tenderly told; Brünnhilde's brief playfulness is giddy; the Fricka/Wotan confrontation is intense; there is great sadness in the Wotan/Brünnhilde scenes, and the Ride whips up a frenzy. The ravishing finale never has sounded more stunning, nor could the singers have been bettered at the time.
At the emotional helm is the oft-recorded Wotan of Hans Hotter, at his peak, giving us a portrayal of a god at once powerful and terribly weak when it matters; is this not opera's most complicated character? Hotter's voice is at its noblest and most supple here; each phrase finds the right tonal color and his whispers are as intimate and touching as his outbursts are terrifying. Astrid Varnay's Brünnhilde also is a known quantity, but rarely has her performance been so free of tics. Her delivery is right on the note, and whether she's being rambunctious or supplicating, she sounds utterly natural: she is Brünnhilde.
On other recordings Ramon Vinay's Siegmund has lacked individuality, and while he never plumbs the depths that Jon Vickers does in the role (no tenor has), his dark tone and delivery contain both epic and heartbreaking facets. And he's as tireless and secure as Varnay. Gré Brouwenstijn's Sieglinde is womanly and well-articulated, and if the vibrato in her voice is a bit loose, she still reaches great heights in her final scene. Georgine von Milinkovic's Fricka is formidable and Josef Greindl's Hunding is quite the brute. The Valkyries are a confident, big-voiced bunch. Needless to say, the orchestral playing is exquisite.
This Walküre grabs the listener from the opening, terrifying storm. Everything is well-judged and it's impossible to avoid getting caught up in the narrative. As with Siegfried, Testament has spread the opera over four CDs--an absolutely unnecessary expense; but I'm afraid there's no avoiding it. This is essential. [7/20/2006]
--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com Read less
Works on This Recording
Die Walküre by Richard Wagner
Astrid Varnay (Soprano),
Gré Brouwenstijn (Soprano),
Hans Hotter (Tenor),
Ramon Vinay (Tenor)
Bayreuth Festival Orchestra
Written: 1856; Germany
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