me start by sorting out the provenance of some of this material.
The inlay states that the Wagner duets, which occupy the
larger part of the space, were recorded in 1955. Consequently
they would be out of copyright but my memory told me that
they were later than that.
original LP (Columbia 33CX 1542/SAX 2296) was reissued in
the late 1960s on Regal SREG 2068, which is the version I
own. There the publishing year is given as 1958. Checking
the Birgit Nilsson discography, published as an appendix
to her memoirs La Nilsson, issued in Swedish 1995,
John Hunt gives the recording date as May 1957. The inlay
states cryptically “Issued from the original sources”, which
should presumably mean that there is a licence agreement
with EMI, but since this material was issued by Testament
not so long ago I am a bit sceptical. Moreover the sound
is mono. The sound quality is good, considering the age.
It’s a bit boxy but well defined and the dynamic scope is
wide enough to give the climaxes impact. It is possible to
detect a constant rumble and I don’t know if it has to
do with the acoustics of the hall, is inherent in the original
tapes or a result of turntable noise. In softer passages
it can be rather irritating.
Philharmonia of 1957 was a great orchestra and the experienced
Leopold Ludwig was a surefooted Wagnerian. But it is the
singing that counts and this is frankly some of the best
Wagner singing ever set down on record. It had been quite
some time since I last listened to these recordings and it
was with the anticipation of something extraordinary that
I put the CD in the player. I was not let down.
was nearing fifty when the recordings were made. The unsteadiness
that became more pronounced in the 1960s can be detected
here too, but to much lesser extent. It is more than compensated
for by the wonderful singing. The opening of the Holländer duet
is magical, Hotter fining down his big voice to lieder half-voice.
His way with the text is hard to beat. Every word is invested
with meaning and the sheer power of the singing is overwhelming.
Birgit Nilsson is sensitive to the text and finds plenty
of nuances, her voice taking on a girlish timbre. At the
climaxes the famous laser-beam shines forth in its full glory.
long final scene from Die Walküre is probably unsurpassed.
Full marks, incidentally, to Archipel for the generous
cue points – no less than eleven in this excerpt, which
makes it possible to pick favourite entrances. For me that
to be Der diese Liebe mir in’s Herz gelegt (track
4) where Birgit Nilsson starts pianissimo and then expands
seamlessly to a gleaming fortissimo in one long unbroken
phrase. This is indeed one of the finest moments in all Wagner.
Likewise So tatest du, was so gern (track 5) where
Hotter sounds uncannily like Fischer-Dieskau, had he ever
sung the part. As a matter of fact he recorded the final
monologue for EMI in 1977. Good as that recording is, F-D
is unable to muster anything near the intensity, power,
identification and great warmth delivered by Hotter. I
know no better version,
certainly not Hotter’s own complete recording with Solti
from 1965. By then his voice had deteriorated markedly.
It is still a wonderful interpretation, but here, eight
earlier he has the same insight and the voice is in so
much better shape. It is a shame that the planned Columbia Ring,
which was the reason for Birgit Nilsson to sign an exclusive
contract in 1957, never came to be. I presume Hotter was
the obvious choice for Wotan even then. Just as I write this,
listening to the recording over headphones, Hotter sings Der
Augen leuchtendes Paar and I can’t help my eyes filling
with tears, so full of feeling is his singing.
The “fillers” – the
four Schubert songs recorded in 1949 – are on the same
exalted level and will probably never be surpassed. Others,
Fischer-Dieskau, have made Schubert interpretations of
the same quality but none better, and the voice eight years
is an even more flexible and pliant instrument than in
the Wagner scenes. There is some background noise but nothing
that detracts much from the musical experience.
Tracks are obviously “in” at the moment and here we get the
very young Hotter, not yet thirty, showing great maturity
and insight. The sound is surprisingly good, but there is
a great deal of noise from an obviously worn shellac. The
orchestra sounds good although there is some distortion,
and Hotter’s voice rings out impressively.
The “documentation” is
limited to a simple track list.
am still wondering a little about the copyright situation,
but that is of course not my problem. I have not heard the
Testament issue, which might be preferable on technical grounds,
but I derived much pleasure from this issue and, as I have
already stressed, better Wagner (and Schubert) singing is
hard to imagine.