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Astrid Varnay
Richard WAGNER (1813-83)

Der fliegende Holländer (1843) – Johohoe! Traft ihr das Schiffa [7’54]; Tannhäuser (1845) – Dich teure Halle!b [5’34]; Lohengrin (1850) – Einsam in truben Tagenc [5’09]; Die Walküre (1870) – Du bist der Lenzd; War er so schmähliche; Tristan und Isolde (1865) – Mild und leisef [6’19]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Fidelio (1814) – Abscheulicher!f [7’22]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Simon Boccanegra (1857) – Come in quest’ora brunaf [4’18]; Il trovatore (1853) – Vanne, lasciami … d’amor sull’ali roseef [6’19]; Macbeth (1847) – La luce languef; Don Carlo (1867) – O don fatalef [4’09];
Ludovic HALÉVY (1833-1908)

La Juive (1835) – Il va venirf [4’28]
Astrid Varnay (soprano)
eGeorge London (baritone); aSinfonieorchester des Saarlandisches Rundfunks/Rudolf Michl; beSinfonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, dfNiederösterreichisches Tonkünstlerorchester/bdefHermann Weigert; cRIAS Symphony Orchestra/Richard Kraus.
Rec. abde1954, c1953, fJune 19th-20th, 1951. ADD


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 feisty Brünnhilde-lass!

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 it.

‘Mild und leise’, from Tristan, is taken fairly briskly and so sounds rather rushed. It is fairly touching without even approaching the devastating.

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 upper appoggiatura.

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 demands hearing.

Recommended if you don’t have these wonderful examples of great singing already.

Colin Clarke


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