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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Lohengrin (1850) – Prelude to Act 1 [8’51]. Tannhäuser (1845) – Dich, teure Halle [4’10]. Die Walküre (1870) – Act 1, Scene 3 [25’54]. Götterdämmerung (1876) – Dawn, Duet and Rhine Journey [20’02]; Siegfried’s Funeral March [12’37]; Brünnhilde’s Immolation [19’10]. Rehearsal Sequence: Die Walküre - Der Männe Sippe (orchestra only [8’56]); Orchestral Finale [11’22].
Lauritz Melchior (tenor); Helen Traubel (soprano); NBC Symphony Orchestra/Arturo Toscanini.
Broadcast performance on February 22nd, 1941 (Rehearsal Sequence, 1947). ADD
GUILD HISTORICAL TOSCANINI BROADCAST LEGACY GHCD2242/3 [130’20: 54’54 + 75’26]



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This is a fascinating product, with excellent and informed accompanying notes by William Youngren, who refers conscientiously to other extant recorded alternatives left by the maestro (he also almost provides a review of the present performances). Even broadcast commentaries are kept to a minimum, and the first disc starts straight into a tender account of the Lohengrin Act 1 Prelude. Here is an example of Toscanini the structuralist, keeping the orchestra within piano for an extended period with miraculous control and conveying a compelling religiosity, working hypnotically towards the climax (which does, admittedly, threaten to distort). This Prelude will always challenge an orchestra, especially at the very opening of a concert, and the NBC strings acquit themselves luminously.

Helen Traubel joins the NBC forces for ‘Dich, teure Halle’ from Tannhäuser. Robert Farr, in his review of this product (http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2003/July03/Wagner_Toscanini1941.htm), provides excellent background for this singer. Suffice it for me to say that one is left in no doubt of Traubel’s resolve, nor of the orchestra’s excellence (the Toscaninian drilling of the strings obviously paying rich dividends). This excerpt functions as an excellent entrée to the meat course of the first disc, Act 1 Scene 3 of Walküre, a near half-hour segment (the late-comers referred to in the broadcast commentary should feel appropriately shamed, for they missed a treat!).

Traubel is joined by the 50 year old Lauritz Melchior for the final 26 minutes of Walküre Act 1 (beginning the orchestral passage preceding ‘Ein Schwert verhiess mir der Vater’). Melchior is wonderfully strong throughout his register, completely immersed in his role as hero; Traubel is consistently gripping. As with Melchior, her voice encompasses the wide range Wagner asks for with ease and has all of the requisite strength (try her entry at ‘Du bist der Lenz’, or her naming of her companion as ‘Siegmund’). But it is Toscanini who provides the thread that binds it all together, dragging the listener in.

Which is not to say he does not get carried away in the heat of the moment. Melchior does not (or is not allowed to) dwell on the first cry of ‘Wälse’ and as the music hurtles onwards, words can count for very little (blink and you miss Traubel’s ‘So bist du ein Wälsung’). A similar situation arises at Melchior’s cry of ‘zu mir’ immediately preceding the sword-extraction. A pity also that Traubel seems closer to the microphone than Melchior at the end (‘Braut und Schwester’ emerges distanced and muffled).

The Tristan Prelude is imbued with a seemingly unstoppable momentum as it moves inexorably towards its climax. Its ending might initially strike the listener as puzzling: Toscanini uses the perfunctory 1859 concert ending rather than having the two pizzicato cello and bass notes lead into the Verklärung. This leaves a curiously incomplete, insubstantial feel, especially as in the present Guild issue this piece closes the first disc.

The second disc consists primarily of Götterdämmerung excerpts. Concentration is the keyword here, which coupled with Toscanini’s interpretative security makes for a winning combination. A powerful force runs through the Funeral March and the orchestra seems positively alight in the Immolation. Traubel seems less internally illuminated, however. She seems to be saving herself for the high notes, and her ‘Edra impression’ (‘Alles weiss ich’) is superficial and unconvincing.

The 1947 rehearsal sequence is an interesting addendum. Toscanini, alone with his orchestra, is intense and passionate. It is worth hearing the first excerpt just to hear him croak and groan his way through the missing vocal lines. Not to mention his echt-Italinate pronunciation of ‘Rehearsal Number 6’, with ‘number’ emerging as the result of some ‘Google’ search decades before its time (‘Noooooooooooomber 6’, he says).

The second excerpt contains one of his famous outbursts (read ‘tantrums’): ‘Why don’t you play before? Tell me why! I am not stupid …’. Does anyone dare to talk to an orchestra like this these days, I wonder?.

Rewarding listening, then. This is a valuable document, well worth acquiring.

Colin Clarke

see also review by Robert Farr



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