What a way to begin!
Varnay’s unaccompanied ‘Johohoe’ is
creamy and confident and these are the
first sounds we hear from her on this
disc. One is immediately fully aware
of the huge reserves of power in her
voice. Her legato as the excerpt continues
is surely up there with all the greats,
her clarion high-notes spine-tingling.
A pity the strings
sound like a studio band in the Tannhäuser
excerpt; amazingly, it is the Bavarian
Radio Symphony Orchestra! Yet it is
well worth persevering – Varnay is huge
of voice here, her legato once more
gorgeous, the close positively magisterial.
But Varnay had the ability to make one
hold one’s breath in anticipation, too;
such is the case with ‘Einsam in trüben
Tagen’. Listen to how Varnay relishes
the words she is given, especially when
she speaks of the approaching ‘Knight’.
The transfer of ‘Du
bist der Lenz’ (Walküre)
is noticeably noisier and more congested
than the preceding tracks, and detracts
a little from Sieglinde’s outpourings.
This is not enough to prevent one admiring
Varnay’s great sense of phrasal direction.
The music moves ever onward, a seemingly
unstoppable flow. ‘War er so schmählich’
comes in highest contrast, a journey
to the dark recesses of Wagner’s mind.
Here she is joined by the magnificent
baritone of George London. See also
my review of the London Preiser
disc – these are not the
same excerpts (the dates differ too:
Preiser’s is dated October 3rd,
1953; the present Archipel gives 1954).
Can anyone out there in readerland confirm
these dates, I wonder?
In this second and
more extended Walküre excerpt,
Varnay is so in tune with the
words; not only their meaning, but also
their actual sound (i.e. removed
from attendant meaning). London sounds
like the perfect Wotan here, so what
in essence we have is two major Wagnerians
completely at home. Weigert, as is his
wont, keeps things moving, but of course
it is Varnay who triumphs. She is one
By the way, there is
a studio noise at 1’55 in this track
where someone clearly dropped something.
Perhaps I shouldn’t mention it - once
you’ve noticed it, you start expecting
‘Mild und leise’, from
Tristan, is taken fairly briskly
and so sounds rather rushed. It is fairly
touching without even approaching the
Talking of the feisty,
as we were with Brünnhilde, Leonore
is another lady with resolute ideas,
and her big aria (‘Abscheulicher’) hails
from the same sessions that yielded
the ‘Verklärung’. The orchestra
is rather rough and ready here, with
horn playing occasionally, er, of its
time ... and I include the final sounding
E natural. Varnay eschews the final
The four Verdi items
again reveal the massive chasm in standard
between singer and orchestra. The scrappy
opening to the Boccanegra item
sums it up, with Varnay’s burnished
line putting the orchestra to shame.
Yet the Trovatore ‘D’amor sull’ali
rose’ is as rapt as they come, and the
Macbeth segment reveals that
unique marriage between silken legato
and supreme authority. But if there
is one Verdi item that stands out, it
is the Don Carlo where not only
is Varnay immediately dramatically convincing,
but she is wonderfully touching also
(‘O mia regina’, 1’20).
The Juive excerpt
is a lovely way to end. Great horns
- they’re better at hunting, obviously
- and Varnay provides a soliloquy that
Recommended if you
don’t have these wonderful examples
of great singing already.