Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Music Webmaster Len Mullenger:


The Valkyrie

Alberto Remedios - Siegmund
Clifford Grant - Hunding
Norman Bailey - Wotan
Margaret Curphey - Sieglinde
Rita Hunter - Brünnhilde
Ann Howard - Fricka
English National Opera Orchestra, Sir Reginald Goodall
Chandos CHAN3038(4), 4 discs - 73'06, 52'09. 47'57, 76'02, mid-price.


Chandos have rather shrewdly opted to re-issue Reginald Goodall's 1975 performance of The Valkyrie as the first of their magnificently remastered ENO Ring cycle. I say shrewdly, because of all the elements that go into making this recording one of the cornerstones of the Wagner discography The Valkryie is also, consistently, the most human of all the operas that form the tetralogy. The humanity of The Valkyrie makes it the most popular and approachable of the cycle and so self contained is the work that Act I and Act III are often performed in concert as separate entities. Goodall was primarily a masterly conductor, but also one of the most humane of men. This recording of the second opera in the cycle is nowhere better than in Act II, a semi- summation of the opera's theme - passion, which has Goodall encompassing the fragility of love, despair, rage, tenderness and death more powerfully than any other interpreter on disc. It remains to this day the most personal and emotional interpretation of this act I have heard and gives us only the slightest hint of what Goodall, almost uniquely, could do with Wagner. In Siegfried, the next issued opera in this series, Goodall takes this to its natural conclusion in an unmatched interpretation of Act III that is simply spellbinding in its beauty and heartrending in its warmth.

It may be worth putting this recording into context. It comprises part of a cycle recorded between 1973 and 1977 - making it the only non-integral live cycle on disc - all other live recordings coming from single years. Only Solti's studio recording of The Ring, recorded between 1958-66, had a longer gestation period. It is the most spacious recording of The Ring available taking almost 17 hours (most others taking under 15) - and only Hans Knappertsbusch, at Bayreuth in 1958, approaches this breadth. It is also, of course, the only cycle to be sung in English and in Chandos' new re-mastering it must surely now be one of the very greatest cycles ever to have been recorded.

Solti's cycle is over two hours shorter than Goodall's, and a great deal less involving, yet has attracted a legendary status which actually overstates its merits. Solti had the Vienna Philharmonic in the pit - but just listen to Goodall's ENO orchestra in The Valkyrie at the beginning of the Act I Prelude, - with trenchantly deep cellos and basses - or during the exhilarating Ride of the Valkyrie's in Act III, to hear how sumptuous and imperious the playing is. Brass are magnificently burnished and strings have a depth of tone which can only be described as opulent. Throughout the entire work Goodall's orchestra are fully the match of Solti's. Listen to the Vienna Philharmonic on Furtwängler's studio recording of the opera, however, and the story is rather different. Here we have a conductor and orchestra at the height of their collective powers. Not even Goodall could summon such monumental passion and electricity from an orchestra as Furtwängler commands on this magnificent recording [EMI CHS 7 63045 2].

The common factor in recordings of not just The Valkyrie but all of The Ring operas under Goodall or Furtwängler (or Knappertsbusch for that matter) remains a glowing, spacious nobility. Coupled with a transparent understanding of what the work is about one finds in these conductors a sense of the profound romanticism and undiluted drama of these epic structures. Goodall is not alone in having a unique feeling for The Valkyrie's inner textual meaning, whether it be in the D minor tonality of the opening, the C major/A minor clash of the Recognition or the E major close of the work ; but he perhaps reveals a sublime metaphysical sound world more akin to the richness of these motives than either of the above conductors simply because of the breadth he layers over this work's development. Goodall's grip over the long paragraphs which frame this work is unerring and his sense of the work's dynamic range is all but a revelation. Details that have been missed in studio cycles made over the past thirty years (Karajan included) are here convincingly perpendicular. One of many examples could include the Act I - Scene III exchange between Siegmund and Sieglinde (as Siegmund sings ' Oh sweetest enchantment' - track 17). Here, Goodall sets the passion motives not only masterfully but demonstrably - an English horn responds almost in exclamation and the ensuing clarinets and flutes phrase with genuinely loving turns. You will look in vain to find this so transparently done elsewhere.

None of this would be possible without Goodall's superb cast. Alberto Remedios, one of the few British tenors to have earned the title 'Heldontenor', is a magnificent Siegmund. Rather like Ludwig Suthaus on Furtwängler's studio recording, Remedios has a bell-like tone and sings with idiomatic understanding of the text. But he is also capable of enormous poetry, such as in the Act II - Scene V 'Charms of sleep' narration as he listens to the breathing of the sleeping Sieglinde. Margaret Curphey as Sieglinde is a fine match for Remedios. She brings to the role a reigned-in passion - notably in her long duet with Siegmund - but is also capable of generating terror and frenzy in her narration as she imagines hearing Hunding's dogs. The lyricism of her soprano register brings dividends in her Act III realisation that she is carrying Siegmund's child.

Norman Bailey, as Wotan, is full of understanding for a role which requires elements of compassion and anguish, and Clifford Grant's Hunding is a black-toned, sinister creation. The battle between Hunding and Siegmund, following Hunding's horned battle cry, is as thrilling as it should be. Rita Hunter, as Brünnhilde, is effortless in a tough role. Her exchanges with Wotan are often profoundly moving.

This is a remarkable set. Newly minted in Chandos' typically bass-resonant fashion, it has a darkness and profundity few other recordings of this opera can equal. With an astonishingly sensitive cast and a conductor with visionary ideas on how the music should grow, it has once again proved the revelation it was on first issue. Many people brought up on Goodall's legendary cycles at ENO will be well aware of what is being offered here. For others, too young like myself to have ever heard Goodall conduct Wagner, the set should offer many riches. At such a bargain price (less than £30) it should be in everyone's collection.

Marc Bridle

Performance & recording

Return to Index

Reviews from previous months

You can purchase CDs, tickets and musician's accessories and Save around 22% with these retailers: - The UK's Biggest Video Store Concert and Show tickets
Musicians accessories
Click here to visit