Notes and Editorial Reviews
An absorbing collection of recordings from the glory days of Wagnerian singing. These discs display an abundance of talent, with hardly a wobble in earshot.
This set begins auspiciously with Hans Hermann Nissen's noble, firm singing of the Dutchman's monologue. This heroic baritone, Toscanini's Sachs at the 1937 Salzburg Festival, was unaccountably Omitted from both HMV's seven LP set (not six as the notes here have it) "Wagner On Record", Vol. 3 (4/83—nla), from which this new collection partly derives, and "The Record Of Singing" (also nla). Thus amends have now been made, especially as he can also be heard on his equally commendable record of the Wanderer's final answer (about the Gods) to Mime's questioning in Siegfried, the kind of secure, rounded singing for which pre-war Wagnerians were noted. Among other singers missing from the LP issue was Marjorie Lawrence, whose Brännhilde (Die Walküre and Götterdämmerung) and Elsa (the duet with the excellent Telramund of Martial Singhier) are happily encountered here, performing in French. Considering that she was only 24 when these records were made the achievement is amazing, in particular her Immolation, in which this Brünnhilde, besides singing with fresh and steady tone, sounds like a young woman totally consumed with love for Siegfried. But the inclusion of this wonderful performance means the exclusion of Frida Leider's equally exemplary one, which was on the LP set.
That kind of difference is typical of the project as a whole, but by and large the choices made here complement what has gone before, not only on "Wagner On Record", but on other reissues. On the first CD, besides Nissen's "Die Frist ist urn", there is another version of the same passage by the French-based American baritone Arthur Endreze, which is more piercingly anguished, less well sung. Then comes the Senta/Dutchman duet in the 1957 account of Nilsson and Hotter, now rightly considered historical, and a peerless interpretation from both singers (Hotter's Dutchman, with louring presence and piercing eyes, is on the new set's box-cover). Many of the Meistersinger extracts are as before, with Schorr properly prominent. The newcomers here are Thill and Germaine Martinelli in the Act 2 duet for Walther and Eva, ardent and making the most of the French text.
The second disc brings us chunks of Tannhäuser and Lohengrin. Additions include Flagstad in Elisabeth's Prayer, broadly and inwardly sung in 1948, Pertile as Lohengrin bidding an eloquent farewell to his swan (in Italian) and Spani in "Aurette, a cui si spesso"—"Euch Laften" to you—a good piece of singing but eclipsed by Lehmann's more idiomatic account of the same passage, also included here. Wittrisch's finely phrased and shaded version of "In fernem Land" replaces Roswaenge's, but he's retained for "Mein lieber Schwann". Sadly missing is Melchior's deeply tormented account of Tannhauser's Rome Narration (from the original LP issue) and the Elsa/Lohengrin duet as sung by Ljangberg (nowhere to be found here) and Widdop, a rare and beautiful version never transferred from the original 78. This CD, but not the others, is affected by various electronic clicks and, in the case of Maria Mailer's radiant "Dich teure Halle', bad distortion. Since Hasch's "Als du im kühnem Sange" has been inadvertently included instead of the announced "0 du mein holder Abendstern", this disc is a mixed pleasure. On the whole, the sound is more open than on a number of EMI's historic transfers. However, to pay for this the voices sometimes have an uncomfortable edge.
The third disc is devoted to Tristan, Parsifal and the first two Ring operas. Leider and Melchior rightly predominate, but certain of the new items have been discerningly chosen, notably Lubin's warm, erotic, all-enveloping Liebestod set side by side with Seinemeyer's more orthodox performance, taken over from LP. Kipnis and Fritz Wolff in the Good Friday Music, from Bayreuth, 1927, is a classic recording deserving rescucitation—what rock-like steadiness from the bass, what poetry from the tenor! Then Seinemeyer and Lorenz are here chosen to represent Sieglinde and Siegmund, a more than apt alternative to Lehmann and Melchior, who can be heard on the CD of the complete Act I of Die Walkiire reissued by EMI three years ago (10/88).
The final disc of the four (all, generously filled, more than 75 minutes in length) has Lawrence (again—a French bias here showing itself) in "War es so schmahlich?" and the amazingly fresh Journet (already in his sixties in 1928 when this was recorded) set beside Bockelmann in Wotan's Farewell, instead of Schorr, who may have been over-represented on LP. Leider's glorious Siegfried Brünnhilde remains an object-lesson in style and interpretation and we might well have had her "Ewig war ich" rather than that of Lubin, a bit swoopy here. Austral finally appears in the Prologue to Götterdämmerung with Widdop. But for some reason in Hagen's call to the vassals, the short-breathed List has replaced the black-voiced Andresen.
As a whole this is, my technical reservation apart, an absorbing issue. We have a few good Wagnerian singers today, but nothing like the abundance of talent displayed on these discs, with hardly a wobble in earshot. Added to that is the impression of singers, Bockelmann and Marta Fuchs (Senta's Ballad, in which she is surpassed by Rethberg in her electrifying account) possibly excepted, being consumed by their roles and projecting them with total sincerity and conviction. Much of the orchestral playing under the likes of Coates and Blech is of high quality.
-- Gramophone [1/1992]