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Richard WAGNER (1813 – 1883).
Die Walküre. Acts I and II
Siegmund, Lauritz Melchior (ten); Wotan, Hans Hotter (bar); Brünnhilde, Marta Fuchs (sop); Sieglinde, Lotte Lehmann (sop); Hunding, Emanuel List (bass); Fricka, Margarete Klose (mezzo).
Note: The brief passages of Wotan and Brünnhilde in the closing scene of Act 2 are sung by Alfred Jerger and Ella Flesch
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Bruno Walter; Berlin State Opera Orchestra/Bruno Seidler-Winkler
Act I recorded 20th –22nd June 1935 in the Musikvereinsaal, Vienna; Act II recorded 22nd June 1935 in the Musikvereinsaal, Vienna, and 19th and 20th September 1938 in Berlin
Bargain Price
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.110250-51 [2 CDs: 73.41+70.22]


Recordings of opera are both the most problematical and expensive; the first £1 million recording was by Decca of a Richard Strauss opera conducted by Solti! Observers outside the industry can only assume that in planning opera recordings, A and R departments are not only concerned with the company’s catalogue and artists’ preferences. They must surely plan for the each recording to join the rather short list of ‘greats’ and thus reap a good chance of a good return on the investment. However, perversity often intervenes. Typical examples include the illness of a singer (before ‘after’ dubbing), a star who develops vocal problems between contract and recording, being typical examples. On the other hand other recordings achieve fame with little or no forward planning; the Beecham ‘New York’ Bohème being an example. Certainly what was originally planned here was intended to be a ‘great’. Look at the choice of conductor and cast and this was after all to be the very first complete recording of a ‘Ring’ opera. The original intention was to record the work in Berlin. However after the Nazis took power in 1933 Schorr, the putative Wotan, List and Bruno Walter, as Jews, became persona non-grata. The recording venue was moved to Vienna and Act I and part of Act II were set down before logistical and budgetary problems held up progress. By the time these had been resolved the Anschluss (annexation of Austria by Germany) had driven Walter to America. Act II was completed in Berlin under the baton of Bruno Seidler-Winkler who, Tully Potter suggests in his sleeve note, was influential in the casting of the young Hans Hotter as Wotan. (Hotter would succeed Schorr as the great Wotan of his generation, but at the time of the recording he had not sung the part on stage). The project was never completed and thus a ‘great’ recording was thwarted. It is, however, interesting to conjecture if John Culshaw would have attempted to persuade Decca to embark on its mighty ‘Complete Ring Project’ if HMV had been first on the scene with a complete Walküre with the likes of Walter at the helm. Of such accidents and influences recording history is made.

Mark Obert-Thorn’s restoration is immensely impressive with the sound forward, clear and pure. There is a warm resonance; the string solo that follows Siegmund’s opening phrases, and Sieglinde’s response, (at 2.40 min to 3.48 min of CD 1 tr. 2) is an excellent indication of this fine quality. Bruno Walter keeps the drama moving with a light touch whilst drawing refined playing from the Vienna Phil., the depth of the recording allowing full appreciation of the quality orchestral playing. Walter’s lyrical touch, in no way Teutonic, allows his singers to phrase with grace and bring meaning to that phrasing. Melchior can be heard in all his vocal glory, his range free to the top of the voice, as he seeks the means of fighting Hunding (CD 1 tr. 8). As his twin, and incestuous lover, Sieglinde, Lotte Lehmann is equally impressive, light voiced, expressive and ardent as she responds to his entreaties (CD 1 tr. 9). Lehmann made her New York ‘Met’ debut the year before this recording and it was there she made this part very much her own. She can also be heard as Sieglinde on the Guild label’s conflation of 1940 broadcasts, reviewed elsewhere on this site. On that Guild issue Lehmann is not in as fresh a voice as here, but that issue does have the glorious silver soaring tones of Flagstad as Brünnhilde, whilst here Marta Fuchs is not in the same league. She has a heavier tone and less well defined diction, which is a strength of the rest of the cast including the steady-toned List as Hunding, and the young Hotter, whose voice is firm and true with an even nut-brown centre. Wotan’s confrontation with the Fricka of Margareta Klose is awesome (CD 1 trs. 14-16 and CD 2 trs. 1-3) and this scene would be the highlight of this Act II were it not for the fact that Hotter is so good in his following dialogue with Brünnhilde (CD 2 tr. 4-7). His singing may not be as expressive or insightful as for Solti twenty odd years later, but his richness of tone, allied to a steady unforced top, and fine legato, without a hint of a wobble, have their own virtue. The only regret is that this scene, like others parts of the recording, is subject to the ‘usual’ cuts operative at the time.

Had this recording gone as planned it would have been an all-time great of the gramophone, but political extremism and racism got in the way. Nowhere in the world is it possible to hear Wagner singing of this quality today. Let’s be grateful for what is preserved, and so well remastered in this issue, and enjoy the pleasures to be had.

Robert J Farr


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