began its live 1955 Bayreuth Ring cycle with Siegfried
in February 2006 and this Walküre is the second
instalment. Rheingold is the next projected release
before they leap-frog forward to Götterdämmerung. Chronologically
this is a mess. Keilberth’s Ring would be better released
there are glowing reviews for this 'new' Walküre. However,
Wagnerians know Ring recordings are made of so many
component parts that it is unusual to get everything in place.
And so it is here. I'm afraid I need to point out some misgivings
about this otherwise magnificent set.
issues include flattened dynamics and shifts in perspective.
I also wonder about Brünnhilde's last verses - Varnay sounds
too far back. The microphones should have followed closer
for these crucial lines. However, it is important to remember
the historical context: these are fifty-plus year old recordings.
Industry insiders at the time questioned the wisdom of Decca
recording their studio Rheingold in stereo in 1957.
Therefore for Kenneth Wilkinson and his team to tape these
performances live two years earlier in hi-fi stereo was frankly
courageous and far-sighted.
the sound is theatrical and extraordinarily vivid. You will
hear singers move about the stage, the bloom of the Festival
House acoustic and deep richness in the engineering, preferable
to the Wagner-lite Böhm Ring recorded in the same venue
twelve years later. Witness the stirring basses and cellos
in the opening storm, the clarity of woodwinds throughout
and, most impressively, these recordings correct the over-emphasis
on voices that undermines contemporaneous radio broadcast
recordings from Bayreuth.
glories of Wagner's orchestration are also revealed through
Keilberth's sensitive ear. This conductor knows how to layer
orchestral textures and reveal the narrative. For example,
the pacing of Act I is well nigh perfect from the battering
opening storm, the accumulating radiance of the 'Spring song'
to passionate acceleration in the coda. The final scenes of
Act II, my favourite in Walküre, benefit from a thrilling
upward sweep in the Annunciation of Death and biting attack
as Hunding is felled.
to the singers. A swish from the wind machine and Ramón Vinay's
truly great Siegmund enters. His opening lines are poetry
itself, telling of a proud and powerful character nevertheless
in despair and weary. Vinay has a glorious tenor with a warm
and generous metallic tone. And his large heldentenor is also
surprisingly sensitive. Just listen to his powerful rings
of "Walse" followed by the most gently moulded phrasing
as Siegmund discovers Nothung. Here he is supported by special
conducting from Keilberth. Listen as the shimmering violins
give way to gently pulsing strings and flowing horns, then
thrillingly deepening basses (track 8 03:30 onwards). The
bar-lines simply melt away as lines liquefy and sing. It’s
absolutely beautiful and I had to push rewind and listen to
these minutes again!
what should be one of the great Walküre Act Ones is
undermined by Brouwenstijn's quick vibrato. This Sieglinde
is too fluttery and the result is an edge of the wrong kind.
Her colouring and acting are excellent, it's just that I needed
to keep listening around her tremulousness. Walhall are about
to release a complete broadcast of this production with the
same cast except Martha Mödl as Sieglinde. I have not heard
this yet but strongly suspect Mödl is preferable.
Varnay begins Act II with superlative battle cries. On paper
she’d give way to Nilsson in Brünnhilde’s tomboyish opening
but power, accuracy and quicksilver whoops are all in place.
Later in the Annunciation of Death Varnay’s fruitiness is
more apparent as she digs towards mezzo registers, reminding
listeners that Varnay’s tone is an acquired taste. You will
need to accept that Varnay swells into many notes.
is no mistaking Brünnhilde’s father. Hans Hotter is an exemplary
Wotan from cold command to the sorrow of a loving father.
Hotter eats this formidable role. A tiny example: listen to
the switch from shuddering inner resignation at the end of
his exchange with Fricka to contrasting black-voiced command
as Brünnhilde enters. The sheer depth to Hotter’s voice is
like looking down into a deep well. The generosity of tone
and absolute authority are unmatched from any Wotan I’ve heard.
special mention for Georgine von Milinkovic’s Fricka. There
is a lovely aerated quality that both softens and enriches
her metallic tone and von Milinkovic’s diction is totally
clear. Fricka’s opening lines are floated within long phrasing,
gaining urgency as her confrontation with Wotan cumulates.
You can hear why Wotan both loves and heeds this Fricka.
an interesting exercise I compared Keilberth’s Walküre with
two others recorded by Decca, focusing on the final scenes.
Varnay and Hotter give a masterclass in vocal acting for Keilberth.
They launch into their final confrontation with a drive and
vivid desperation not matched by Nilsson and Hotter under
Solti. The conundrum facing Wagner’s characters and the way
they think and sing their way through it leaps from the speakers.
Nilsson is warmer than I expected but I still find her tone
too penetrating at forte. Some unsteadiness had crept
into Hotter’s voice by 1965 and he was not as engaged in the
studio as on the Bayreuth stage, yet his Wotan remained formidable.
is a decisive factor. I wearied
of Soltis constant upbeat
attacks and loud orchestral accompaniment.
The exaggerated slowing of pulse
after Wotan sings Und das
ich ihm in Sruchen schlug!
and the near rasp of the triumphal
brass after that verse are typical
examples of undue expressive underlining.
ascent to the orchestral crescendo as Wotan kisses away Brünnhilde’s
godhead begins well enough but the overblown agogic rubato
before the brass blare out a particularly strident chord at
the peak is simply impossible. Surprisingly, Keilberth is
disappointing here too. His phrasing is too short-winded to
invoke the nobility of Wagner’s amazing sonic arch, especially
in the over-quick descent. Although from there Keilberth returns
to form, again showing a keen ear for floating phrases and
this point neither conductor is in Furtwängler’s league. With
the 1954 Vienna Philharmonic Furtwängler invokes a deep Wagnerian
swell, building a blazing line to a peak where brass, timps
and strings sing out with overwhelming generosity. Notice
how his descent holds the pulse, like a hang-glider who has
run up a hill and then soared off the apex. Live in 1937 London
Furtwängler is even more incredible, stretching the rubato
almost to breaking point in a performance that is so powerful
it should not be heard too often.
1990s Ring was sunk by poor reviews and abysmal sales
before it reached the third instalment This is a pity as the
Walküre boasts spectacular engineering and miraculous playing
from the Cleveland Orchestra. Robert Hale is an expressive
and intelligent Wotan, lacking Hotter’s authority. Gabrielle
Schnaut made for controversial casting as Brünnhilde. Her
tone is not always ingratiating but Schnaut’s singing is not
as squally and unsteady as some reviews suggest. Schnaut certainly
has the requisite heft and I believe in her youthful, petulant
Walküre goddess, whilst not wanting to hear how she
might later tackle the noble Götterdämmerung Immolation!
And Dohnanyi is surprisingly fine although I am occasionally
bothered by a sense that the score is more in his head than
his heart. Dohnanyi’s opening Act 3 Ride begins swiftly, crackling
with a Mendelssohn-like airiness, then deepening power as
the Walküre sisters unite in their battle-cry over thundering
timps. Dohnanyi’s brass outclass their Bayreuth counterparts
in the Ride for precision and tonal lustre. Dohnanyi’s pacing
and attention to detail is frankly more interesting than that
of Keilberth, whose Ride seems less ‘alert’. In the final
scenes Dohnanyi holds a clear, intelligent course with his
transparent and beautifully integrated ‘Cleveland sound’,
typified by integrated swelling brass and soaring corporate
violins as Brünnhilde’s godhead is kissed away. Decca should
re-release Dohnanyi’s underrated Walküre as a super-budget
Trio. It would make a useful modern supplement to the more
vivid Testament recording which for its principal singers
and theatrical revelations now becomes my favourite stereo
are not the first record company to spread Die Walküre
over four CDs when it could fit onto three. Aside from
that, those who question the cost of Keilberth’s Ring should
remember that, unlike cheap pirate issues of broadcast Rings
from this era, Testament are paying royalties. The
booklet contains a libretto in tiny typeface and reiterates
the history of the 1955 Ring recording discussed in
the earlier Siegfried set. There is some extra discussion
principally centred on Hans Hotter’s contribution.
do not pay the £50 for the Testament Walküre advertised
in various high street and some online shops. One of the major
British supermarkets is selling it online for £30, UK post