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Wagner: Die Walkure / Keilberth, Modl, Varnay, Hotter, Vinay

Release Date: 10/13/2009 
Label:  Testament   Catalog #: 1432   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Richard Wagner
Performer:  Josef GreindlHans HotterAstrid VarnayMartha Mödl,   ... 
Conductor:  Joseph Keilberth
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bayreuth Festival OrchestraBayreuth Festival Chorus
Number of Discs: 3 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

WAGNER Die Walküre Joseph Keilberth, cond; Martha Mödl ( Brünnhilde ); Astrid Varnay ( Sieglinde ); Hans Hotter ( Wotan ); Ramón Vinay ( Siegmund ); Josef Greindl ( Hunding ); Georgine von Milinkovi? ( Fricka ); Bayreuth Festival O Read more TESTAMENT 1432 (4 CDs: 258:38) Live: Bayreuth 8/11/1955

& WAGNER Tannhäuser excerpts Joseph Keilberth, cond; Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (bar); Wolfgang Windgassen (ten); Bayreuth Festival O TESTAMENT 1432 (4 CDs: 258:38) Live: Bayreuth 8/11/1955 Live: Bayreuth 7/31 and 8/2/1955

The 2006/07 release on Testament of Joseph Keilberth’s July 1955 Bayreuth Ring , originally recorded by Decca in stereo, was cause for celebration. Along with Bayreuth’s strongest postwar singers recorded in their prime, Keilberth’s conducting proved to be highly dramatic, full of sensitivity and convincing in its large-scale pacing. His approach is comparable to Clemens Krauss’s in the 1953 Bayreuth Ring with many of the same singers. But it is the stereo sound that makes Keilberth’s the Ring of choice for collectors who might only have dreamed of hearing performances from what is rightly considered a “golden age” of Bayreuth in sound as full and vivid as this. It’s not just stereo, but warm, detailed sound engineering that captures the unique quality of Bayreuth’s orchestra particularly well. Peter Andry’s account of the recording process makes for interesting reading in the booklet for Testament’s 2006 Walküre.

Now the label has issued another remastered stereo Walküre from a second cycle of Ring performances given in August of the same year. It was recorded by the same team but with two cast changes. Astrid Varnay, the first cycle’s Brünnhilde, her usual role, sings Sieglinde, and Brünnhilde is sung by Martha Mödl, a soprano with a close association with Keilberth. From a conducting and sound perspective, the two performances are generally similar, but not identical. For instance, the first cycle’s act I opening storm music has far more immediate sound than in the second, whereas the act III “Ride of the Valkyries” receives a much tighter performance in the second cycle.

I would have a very difficult time stating a preference for either Varnay or Gré Brouwenstijn, (Sieglinde in the June cycle). Both are entirely convincing in the part and have wonderful, secure high notes. Brouwenstijn sounds younger and slightly tremulous. Varnay, with a richer voice, creates a less vulnerable sounding character, though I’m not sure that authority is what one looks for in a portrayal of Sieglinde. As many critics have noted, Varnay occasionally lands on notes slightly flat and adjusts the pitch upward, a habit that would become more noticeable not too much later in her career but is barely perceptible here. Neither soprano reaches the dramatic level of Lotte Lehmann’s Sieglinde in Bruno Walter’s classic 1935 recording of act I, and for that matter, Ramón Vinay, whose heartfelt singing and burnished tone I love, is not as thrilling in the climactic passages as Melchior—no one is—or quite as touching as Jon Vickers. Still, Keilberth makes act I more than the sum of its parts; it’s a gloriously paced, glowing account.

As for the two Brünnhildes, Varnay has more color in her sound, more vibrato, and there’s more “face” to her charcterization. Mödl sings with somewhat less inflection, but no less intensity and, contrary to my expectations based on other recordings, technical security and very pure sound. Varnay with her richer voice sounds something like Kirsten Flagstad; Modl, a “cooler” singer, does not.

Otherwise, in the performances that recur in both cycles, Josef Greindl is ideal as Hunding, Georgine Milinkovi?’s accurate, melifluous singing makes Fricka a sympathetic character, and Hans Hotter’s Wotan is reason alone to acquire either Testament set. To repeat what many other critics have already said, Wotan may be the most complex character in all opera, and Hotter’s tireless performance of the role, vocally splendid at this stage of his career, is one of the most complete interpretations of any role ever recorded. Thanks to his wide emotional range, the conversations between gods that make up so much of act II and culminate with Wotan’s “Farewell” at the close of act III make this feel like Wagner’s most humane opera, aside from Die Meistersinger.

Collectors can’t go wrong with either of these Walküres . The first cycle’s more lavish packaging includes a libretto, photos, and supplementary articles. The second cycle offers a bonus in the form of four excerpts from a 1955 Bayreuth performance of Tannhäuser conducted by Keilberth, recorded in stereo. It contains the Overture in the Dresden version followed by the Paris version of the Venusberg Bacchanale , a sequence that makes for 26 minutes of some of Wagner’s least interesting music. This arrangement, created by Wieland Wagner to allow extended dance opportunities, exemplifies what Keilberth, according to Mike Ashman’s notes, “loathed,” but I agree with Ashman that Keilberth inspires the orchestra to achieve a “Toscanini-like sensuality” in this superlatively good performance. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s refined way with Wolfram’s act III aria is familiar from many other recordings. In the fourth excerpt, Wolfgang Windgassen as Tannhäuser is very exciting in his dialogue with Fischer-Dieskau and moving at the start of his Rome narrative. It’s a shame that only the beginning seems to have been recorded, and for that matter, most regrettable that Decca didn’t record the whole performance. Bayreuth in 1955, Keilberth, and stereo make an unbeatable Wagnerian formula.

FANFARE: Paul Orgel
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Works on This Recording

Die Walküre by Richard Wagner
Performer:  Josef Greindl (Bass), Hans Hotter (Baritone), Astrid Varnay (Soprano),
Martha Mödl (Mezzo Soprano), Ramon Vinay (Tenor), Georgine von Milinkovic (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Joseph Keilberth
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bayreuth Festival Orchestra,  Bayreuth Festival Chorus
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1856; Germany 
Tannhäuser: Overture by Richard Wagner
Conductor:  Joseph Keilberth
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bayreuth Festival Orchestra,  Bayreuth Festival Chorus
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1845/1861; Germany 
Tannhäuser: Venusberg Music by Richard Wagner
Performer:  Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (Baritone), Wolfgang Windgassen (Tenor)
Conductor:  Joseph Keilberth
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bayreuth Festival Orchestra,  Bayreuth Festival Chorus
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1861; Germany 
Tannhäuser: O, du mein holder Abendstern by Richard Wagner
Performer:  Wolfgang Windgassen (Tenor), Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (Baritone)
Conductor:  Joseph Keilberth
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bayreuth Festival Orchestra,  Bayreuth Festival Chorus
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1845/1861; Germany 

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