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
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.
see also review
by Colin Clarke