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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Siegfried: Act 1 - Scene 1: Preludea; Zwangvolle Plage!b; Hioho! Hioho! Hau’ ein! Hau’ ein!c; Als zullendes Kind zog ich dich aufc; Soll ich der Kunde glaubenc; Scene 2: Heil dir, weiser Schmiedd; Dein Haupt pfänd ichd; Scene 3e: Fühltest du nie im finstren Wald; Nothung! Nothung! Neidliches Schwert; Hoho! Hoho! Hahei! … Schmiede, mein Hammer.
Act 2 - Scene 1f: In Wald und Nacht; Deine Hand helitest du vom Hort?; Scene 2: Dass der mein Vater nicht istg; Du holdes Vöglein!g; Haha! Da hätte mein Liedh; Scene 3: Wohin schleichst du eilig und schlauh; Da lieg’ auch du, dunkler Wurm!i; Hei! Siegfried erschlug nun den schlimmen Zwergi.
Act 3 – Scene 1j: Prelude; Wache, Wala; Stark ruft das Lied; Dir Unweisen ruf ich ins Ohr; Scene 2k: Kenntest du mich, kühner Spross; Zich hin!; Scene 3: Selige Öde auf sonniger Höh’!l; Das ist kein Mann!l; Heil dir Sonne!m; O Siegfried! Siegfried!n; Ewig was ichn; Dich lieb ichn; Ob jetzt ich dein?n.

ceghiklnLauritz Melchior, bcdhHeinrich Tessmer, eAlbert Reiss (tenors); iNora Grubn, mnFlorence Easton (sopranos); jMaria Olszewska (contralto); fhEduard Habich (baritone); dfFriedrich Schorr, kRudolf Bockelmann (bass-baritone); a-i, k,lLondon Symphony Orchestra/a-d, fhlRobert Heger, egikAlbert Coates, jVienna State Opera Orchestra/Karl Alwin; mnOrchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden/Robert Heger
Performance background and plot synopsis included. From HMV a-dDB1713 and 1578/81, eD 1690/1, fDB1582, gD1692, hiD1693, jDB1533/4, kDB1694, lD1836/7; Rec. a-d,fLondon, a-dMay, fMay 21st, 1931, lMay 12th, 1930, mnMay 29th, 1932, egQueen’s Hall, London on May 16th-g17th, 1929, iMay 17th and ik22nd, 1929, hMay 21st, 1931, jVienna in 1929.
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.110091/92 [151’30: 79’04 + 72’26].

These recordings were made between 1928 and 1932 as part of a project in which HMV recorded substantial excerpts from The Ring. The advent of electrical recording made these discs possible though it would not be until the late 1930s and 1940s that a complete Wagner opera was recorded, albeit in a live recording rather than in the studio and it would not be until the 1950s. that a complete studio recording of a Wagner opera could be made.

These recordings were never intended to form a complete, potted Ring. HMV were simply attempting to record as much as possible with the finest Wagner singers of the day. There are, in fact, a number of duplications and overlaps and in the Pearl boxed set, issued in 1995, they included the excerpts form the entire Ring, including duplicates.

For this Naxos set of ‘Siegfried’ we have over 150 minutes of the opera without duplication of scenes. The link between all the different recordings, with their varied locations, orchestras and conductors, is the Siegfried of Lauritz Melchior. He had made his debut as Siegmund in 1924, the first tenor role in the Ring that he essayed; he had first made his debut in 1912 as a baritone. So these discs provide a welcome glimpse of the fresh voiced young tenor (he was 40 in 1930) rather than the older Melchior of the complete live recordings. His singing is quite thrilling, wonderfully free at the top and admirably full of light and shade, even poetic at times. The advantage of having a singer whose resources can encompass this role without having to perform at full stretch the whole time.

He is joined by a fine cast of mainly German singers. Wotan is played by three different people. Most notable is Friedrich Schorr as a noble, grandly moving Wanderer. Bockelman makes a wonderfully warm contribution to the thrilling Act 3 confrontation between Siegfried and the Wanderer. And Emil Schipper takes the Act 3 duet between the Wanderer and the dark, firm-voiced Erda of Maria Olszewska.

For the final duet between Siegfried and Brünnhilde, Melchior is joined by Florence Easton. Elsewhere in the HMV recordings, Brünnhilde is played by Frieda Leider. It is here particularly that the combination of changes in vocal technique and the relatively primitive recording methods combine to try and deceive us. Easton sounds a remarkably light voiced Brünnhilde, wonderfully flexible; one can understand why she was able to sing Norma and Brünnhilde in the same season. But, such is the focus of her voice and the limitations of the recording that it is difficult to really be certain how big her voice is. This is a problem which repeatedly occurs in recordings of this period. I am never quite certain how big a voice Leider had, based on her studio recordings. You must bear in mind that, for her early recordings, Eva Turner was required to stand well behind everyone else in the studio, such was the power of her voice and the inability of the recording apparatus to cope with it. So we should be a little wary of dismissing Easton as light voiced, just because she has a firm, focused technique.

Similarly, the recording process seems to favour all of the men with the same rather bright bloom. This is noticeable in Walter Widdop’s recordings (he did Siegmund for the HMV Valkyrie). Again, I am never sure how much is attributable to commonality of technique and how much to recording technique. I have always wished that someone would try going into the recording studio to record some Wagner excerpts with modern singers but using these 1930s techniques. It would be highly illuminating to see what effect it had on voices that are well known today.

The recording also rather compresses the orchestral sound. Albert Coates in particular favours quite fast speeds and even when the orchestra is playing with great clarity, the recording can sound confused and compressed. And of course, there are plenty of moments when the orchestral sound is rather a mad scramble.

These are not recordings for every day, but they provide an illuminating glimpse into a style of Wagner performance that has disappeared. It is remarkable how much stylistic unity these performances have even though three different conductors conduct three different orchestras. And all of the singers have the stunning virtue of projecting the text with a clarity and comprehension that is becoming rarer and rarer nowadays. This set is a must for anyone who loves Wagner singing.

Robert Hugill

see also review by Colin Clarke


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