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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].

This is a fascinating and invaluable document, tracing important recordings of Siegfried from 1928-1932. The roll-call of singers is hugely impressive, and how wonderful to have so much Albert Coates here. The layout is intelligent, strictly chronological. A potted Siegfried is, of course, not ideal (of all the Ring music-dramas, it segments the least easily), yet in issuing the Gramophone Company’s overview, Naxos have laudably succeeded in supplying a coherent and satisfying musical experience. And although if one listened blindfold the historical origins of these recordings would be obvious, one would be hard-pressed to identify the actual dates as being at the beginning of the 1930s (and, indeed, just before). Ward Marston has done the honours, and he has done the singers, and Wagner, proud.

One unfortunate fact of presentation is that almost all the timings on Disc 1 are wrong. This is because Naxos lists tracks 2 and 3 as 3’37 and 8’00 respectively; in fact both are 3’37, so the next tracks (up to No. 8, the beginning of Scene 3) are up the creek. Confusing.

There is one unifying factor here, Wagner’s somewhat forbidding score. Siegfried can appear the most forbidding part of the Ring. Voices are mostly male (one of the female voices is even a bird, not a person!) and there is a blackness that runs through the whole score, almost as if the smoke from the infernal furnaces of Nibelheim is wafting over the entire work. Yet there is a passion to this entire enterprise that makes each semiquaver gripping listening.

In an ideal world, Siegfrieds would just all sound like Lauritz Melchior, and his voice is perhaps the second unifying thread - he is in almost all of the excerpts (although the very first voice we hear is Heinrich Tessmer’s excellent Mime). In fact Tessner and Melchior work very well together. Tessmer does not overplay his card as so many singers do, his only problem being a sense of strain down below in his register (track 2, around 2 minutes). Every word is audible and clear. The first seven excerpts (those from Act 1 Scenes 1 and 2) are under the baton of Robert Heger, whose sense of rhythmic vitality is just right. As the dotted rhythms emerge and permeate the fabric, there is a great sense of underlying direction allied to an irresistible youthful vitality.

Siegfried (Melchior) enters in track 3, and it becomes obvious the voices were chosen to contrast and interact to perfection. This Siegfried is as lusty as they come, very busy and, in his own mind, invincible. A concurrent joy comes from Tessmer’s handling of Wagner’s grace-notes.

Friedrich Schorr as the Wanderer, no less, joins Tessmer’s Mime for Act 1 Scene 2. Schorr is magnificently authoritative, accompanied by a wonderfully darkly-shaded orchestra. Schorr’s innate lyricism leads to some miraculous shadings of line - the contrast between his unshakeable confidence and Mime’s wheedling is exactly right. This is the scene of Mime’s questions, and Schorr brings high drama to his answers, including high awe as her refers to Valhall.

The Act 1, Scenes 1 and 2 excerpts date from 1931. Scene three was recorded full two years earlier - Melchior again, now with Albert Reiss as Mime and the great Albert Coates at the helm. Coates brings an inevitability to his reading (although perhaps the beginning of the famous ‘Nothung! Nothung!’ excerpt is on the sluggish side). Yet Melchior is surely without peer here. His sound is little short of gargantuan, with an edge of brutishness (making Mime’s sudden tenderness at around 6’00 all the more effective). The anvil rings convincingly as we hurtle towards the end of Act 1, the orchestra providing a fittingly climactic feel. Siegfried’s interrupting cry of ‘Nothung!’ (3’29) is massively effective after Mime’s ramblings. There is a headlong (yet somehow - just - controlled) rush to the end. Bracing stuff.

Act 2 brings Alberich in its wake, here Eduard Habich, Schorr’s Wanderer is, as usual, inside the part, here creepily ominous. Heger is back as conductor, and as before all is well if not as pulse-quickeningly right as with Coates. Habich and Schorr again are perfectly chosen as a pair. Indeed, there is a visceral sense of drama here. Mention should certainly be made that Habich sings both Fafner and Alberich in this particular set of excerpts.

Act 2 is split over the two discs here, and the final appearances of the Waldvogel are credited to the excellent Nora Gruhn (‘Grubn’ in the listing). Not as flighty as some, perhaps, there is a poignant lyricism that undercuts her flutterings. Small wonder Siegfried chases after her. I’d believe her.

Emil Schipper takes over the Wanderer at the beginning of Act 3 (he sang Wotan at Covent Garden in the twenties). It is true that there is drama here, but Schipper does not seem to have all of the requisite authority. He is overshadowed by his Erda (Maria Olszewska) and indeed by Karl Alwin’s conducting, magnetic in the Prelude. Olszewska seems to speak from deep authority.

Schipper does, it has to be admitted, grow on me as his assumption continues. Perhaps it is his flowing legato that appeals. But the difference on sheer power is evident when the Wanderer is changed to Rudolf Bockelmann, Schorr-like in his grandeur. This seems to inspire Melchior to match him in intensity and it is Melchior, one year on (now 1930) with Heger and the LSO, who is hugely impressive at the beginning of Scene 3 (and, indeed, right to the end of the music-drama, but we have to move to 1932 for that). He is beautifully focussed, and gives off the rather strange impression that he could go on forever.

Good, then, that Melchior it is that rounds things off, still with Heger but now with the LSO, and Florence Easton as Brünnhilde (this is from ‘Heil dir, Sonne!’ onwards). If this is not the most ecstatic greeting to the sun you will here from an orchestra, things open out nicely, with Melchior opening out nicely towards the end. Easton perhaps cannot match him in identification with text and music (and she can scoop up to notes), but the Siegfried of Melchior is invaluable - and Heger creates a great accumulation of steam towards the end.

Ward Marston gives a full run-down of problems he encountered in producing this product. As noted above, suffice it to say the results are excellent (I for one would not guess that some of the excerpts would come from as early as they do).

Products such as this are increasingly valuable. The ‘Golden Age’ of singing should be remembered, and when performance history becomes a fully systematised branch of study they may really come into their own. On a less lofty level, if you have ever shied away from Siegfried’s magnificent edifice, now would be a good time to investigate …

Colin Clarke

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