Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


Crotchet   AmazonUK   AmazonUS

Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Lohengrin,‘Prelude to Act 1’
Tannhaüser, ‘Dich, teure Halle’ (Act 2)
Die Walküre, ‘Act 1 Scene 3’
Tristan und Isolde, ‘Prelude’
Götterdämmerung: ‘Dawn, Duet and Rhine Journey’; ‘Siegfried’s Funeral March’; ‘Brünnhilde’s Immolation’
Die Walküre, Rehearsal of Act 1 Scene 3, ‘Der Manner Sippe’; Orchestral Finale
Siegfried, Lauritz Melchior (ten)
Brünnhilde, Helen Traubel (sop)
NBC Symphony Orchestra/Arturo Toscanini
Recorded 22 February 1941 (except rehearsal, recorded April 1947)
Toscanini Broadcast Legacy Series
GUILD GHCD 2242/3 [2CDs: 55.02+75.35]

Guild claims this to be the first time the complete performance of this concert has been available commercially. As a bonus, 20 minutes from an April 1947 rehearsal of Act 1 scene 3 of Die Walküre are added. Toscanini rehearsals were renowned and always worth listening to, if only for the excitement of wondering if one of his famous ‘explosions’ might be included!

Toscanini’s conducting of Wagner was inclined to divide contemporary critics and has continued to do so, with the ‘anti’ faction contending that his interpretations were too ‘Italianate’ and not sufficiently architectural. Certainly the opening Lohengrin Prelude ‘CD1 tr.1’ is in no way sensuously melodic in interpretation. The conductor builds from a very slow start, where the violins do well to hold the legato line, to a climax at around 6 mins, declining to the softest of finishes; certainly architectural structuring to my ears. However, the matter of Toscanini and tempi is more contentious. In a long and informed essay in the booklet, William Youngren discusses the variety of tempi the conductor adopted in different performances of a Wagner work. He analyses three performances of the Lohengrin Prelude, finding the one included here ‘as slow and spacious as the 1936 performance but as dramatic and lyrical as that of the 1941’ (available on Naxos Historical and RCA/BMG respectively). Youngren expresses disappointment with the ‘Tristan’ Prelude, ‘CD1 tr.10’, and certainly the performance is somewhat flat, perhaps a reaction to the vocal items that had gone just before (in that respect I assume the recording is sequenced as the original concert).

I suspect that it will be the vocal items that will draw potential purchasers, particularly the presence of Helen Traubel and Lauritz Melchior. Traubel, American by birth, gained greatly by the polio that afflicted Marjorie Lawrence in 1941 and Flagstad’s retirement from the ‘Met’ the same year, the two having shared the heavy Wagnerian soprano roles at that theatre for the previous 6 years. Born in 1899, Traubel remained the leading Wagnerian soprano at the ‘Met’ until 1953 when she fell out with Rudolf Bing, the austere chief there, about her cabaret appearances! Her Wagnerian credentials are clearly set out in ‘Dich, teure Halle’, Elisabeth’s aria from Act 2 of Tannhaüser, ‘CD1 tr.3’, when she starts appropriately joyously with clear declamation and full tone before becoming more introspective. In the final scene from Act 1 of ‘Die Walküre’, she is joined by the 50-year-old Melchior, renowned as perhaps the greatest ‘heldentenor’ ever. His strong voice, with light baritonal overtones, encompasses every demand that Wagner makes in this highly dramatic scene as the singers are matched by Toscanini’s grasp of the drama. Wagner enthusiasts will enjoy comparing this performance with that conducted by Leinsdorf on December 6th 1941 with the same duo (Naxos Historical).

The second CD continues where the Die Walküre finished, in terms of quality of performance as well as operatic sequence, as we move to Götterdämmerung; the two singers matching each other for dramatic thrust. Toscanini gives them time to phrase, but without any loss of dramatic intensity. ‘Brünnhilde’s Immolation’, trs.9-13, allows direct comparison with Flagstad on Guild’s recent ‘Dream Cycle’ issue of the opera. Traubel may not be the Norwegian’s equal, but who except Nilsson has bettered her since?

Whatever one’s view of Toscanini and Wagner, every lover of the composer’s work will want these well recorded discs, not merely to enjoy for their own sake, but to compare, contrast, and use to argue their particular viewpoint as to the conductor’s interpretation of the composer’s work.

Robert J. Farr

Return to Index

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.