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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Götterdämmerung – Act II complete
Brünnhilde – Frieda Leider (soprano)
Siegfried - Lauritz Melchior (tenor)
Gunther – Herbert Janssen (baritone)
Waltraute - Kerstin Thorborg (mezzo)
Hagen – Ludwig Weber (bass)/Emanuel List (bass)
Alberich - Edouard Habich (bass-baritone)
Gutrune – Maria Nezadal (soprano)
Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden/Thomas Beecham
Recorded 14th and 29th May 1936 with interpolations; includes Act I Scene 2 Hagen’s Hier sitz to the end of the Act and Act III Brünnhilde’s Immolation Scene with Elfriede Maherr-Wagner (Gutrune)/Berlin State Opera Orchestra/Leo Blech, recorded 1928
Excerpts from Frieda Leider’s Wagner;
War es so schamlich (Die Walküre Act III Scene 3) [7.33]
Heil dir sonne! (Siegfried Act III Scene 3) [4.24]
Ewig war ich (Siegfried Act III Scene 3) [8.31]
Berlin State Opera Orchestra/Leo Blech, recorded 1927
GUILD GHCD 2311/12 [67.26 + 73.47]

Firstly a note on what we have. The principal torso is the remains of Beecham's 1936 Götterdämmerung; a chunk of Act I is extant though one disc has been lost and a patch from a 1937 Melchior performance has been utilised to cover a gap after Brunnhilde's jag'st du mich hin. Act II is not fully extant. Patches from the 1950 Furtwängler performance have been spliced into scene one and a Habich passage is from the 1936 Met (Bodanzky) though Weber and Habich were captured singing for Beecham in 1936. The Immolation Scene from Act III derives from commercial discs made in Berlin under Blech in 1928. There are also excerpts from Frida Leider's Die Walküre and Siegfried, once more with Blech but this time from 1927. Quite a complicated procedure then and one that has been accomplished with considerable care and firm supporting documentary information (a Guild speciality thankfully, otherwise hacks like me would be floundering around).

The man at the helm is Beecham, a fluid, elastic but tensile Wagnerian, eloquently stressing the cantilever of the string melodies and bringing the supportive cushion of the winds to the fore. His cast is stellar and one that will be broadly known from other Covent Garden and Met performances. We hear Weber, "nasty" of tone and insinuating in Hier sitz zur Wacht as indeed we can hear Thorborg's Waltraute. With every newly released disc Thorborg's stature as a Wagnerian (especially - she was superb in other repertoire of course) grows. Elastic lyricism subjected to strong rhythmic control inform her exchanges with Leider in Act I Scene 3. The characterisation is powerful, the histrionic hauteur unmistakeable.

For all the problems and changeable balances, scrunches and stage noises we can clearly appreciate the theatrical drama of the Leider-Thorborg scenes; Leider is regal and in consistently compelling form. Melchior's theatrical projection allied to Olympian vocalism is as ever magnificent but so in its more inevitably circumscribed way is Janssen's Gunther. As we've heard before in Guild's Met broadcast series Janssen's very elegance and almost refined impersonation is an acute musico-psychological perception. List is full of spittle and sawdust hectoring in his Act II Scene 4 exchanges Dir hilft kein Hirn. Note here also the stupendous Concorde-curve of Beecham's moulding of the string lines (try from about two minutes into this scene).

Problematic though this recording is the engineering time has been well spent. The bonuses are exciting enough in their own way - the Act III Immolation Scene from Berlin and the slightly earlier 1927 extracts. The catalogue numbers are given in the body of the text. Note that in the former Guild have spliced a full orchestral finale (not included in the commercial disc) so that if you possess HMV D2025-26 or any subsequent re-releases you will be in for a little surprise. The extract is so far unidentified.

Period photographs of the performers grace the booklet and there are synopses, biographies and notes. An imposing addition to the 1930s Wagnerian discography - and in better-than-hoped-for sound.

Jonathan Woolf

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