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CD: Crotchet

Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Tannhäuser (1845)
Dich, teure Halle [5:14]
Der fliegende Holländer (1843)
Senta’s Ballad [8:27]
Wie aus der Ferne* [15:42]
Lohengrin (1850)
Einsam in truben Tagen [5:52]
Die Walküre (1870)
Act III, Scene 3* [39:02]
Tristan und Isolde (1865)
Mild und leise [7:44]
Birgit Nilsson (soprano, all); *Hans Hotter (baritone)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Leopold Ludwig
rec. No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, 16-19 October 1957 (Walküre); Kingsway Hall, London, 14-16 May 1957 (rest). Mono (Walküre), stereo. ADD
Experience Classicsonline

Mike Ashman, in his booklet note, traces the history of these magnificent recordings as a taster for a planned Legge Ring. Leopold Ludwig was no great conductor and, whatever the strengths of the singers involved - and, with names like Nilsson and Hotter, they are bound to be many - when it comes to Wagner one needs a great conductor – especially when one is engaged in Wagnerian circumcision – or “bleeding chunks”, as they are more usually known. On the present occasion, one is left agape at the talents of Flagstad and Hotter, but the Philharmonia can seemingly manage little enthusiasm for Ludwig.
Nilsson is in commanding form for her “Dich, teure Halle”. “Commanding” not just in term of imposing vocal delivery, but also as in, in total command of all aspects of dynamic and register. The choral-accompanied prayer-like sections are just as magical in their way as the authoritative statements. Senta’s Ballad serves to highlight the mismatch between great singer and mediocre conductor. The Philharmonia’s contribution is perfectly acceptable, and indeed contains moments of great and admirable beauty. But never does it match the characterisation heard in every syllable of Nilsson’s delivery - her diction is astonishing. Incidentally, the chorus used here is nowhere credited. One assumes the Philharmonia Chorus, but it would have been nice to have been told. We move from there to the largest single chunk on the disc “Wie aus der Ferne”. Hotter begins this with a floated tone that conveys ultimate mysteries. It is Hotter at his most riveting and beautiful; the duet (“Wie aus der Ferne”) reveals some of the most delicious Wagner singing I have ever come across. The two singers are so attuned to each other that the dialogue becomes remarkably involving. Nilsson, in addition, sings with razor-like precision in terms of pitch attack.
The excellence of the more tender moments of “Dich teure Halle” is expounded upon in her rapt version of Elsa’s Dream from Lohengrin. But it is when the two singers combine in the heartrending final scene of Walküre that we really hear them at the top of their game. Brünnhilde’s eloquent plea to her father (“Was es so schmählich”) is given an utterly personal slant and sets the tone for one of the finest performances of this father-daughter farewell I have encountered. Wotan’s famous cries of “Leb’ wohl” and the passage immediately preceding them find Hotter taking his voice to the limits in both dynamic and emotional terms – and what an impact it makes. A pity Ludwig cannot match his Wotan’s intensity in the important extended orchestra-only passage between  “… der freier als ich, der Gott” and “Der Augen leuchtendes Paar”. It is left to Hotter to pick up the energy he generated earlier, which he does with consummate ease. His commanding invocation of Loge is unforgettable.
Finally, as if one great farewell was not enough, we have Nilsson’s “Mild und leise”. Imperious and noble in her sorrow, this Isolde just needs a conductor like the Böhm of the famous DG Tristan behind her sails to seal the deal. But this is magnificent singing and simply must be heard by all self-respecting Wagnerites.
Much of this material appeared on an Archipel disc (ARPCD0334) perceptively reviewed on this site by Göran Forsling in May 2006. I have not heard that transfer, but this GROC is near-faultless in its sonic delivery. Oh, by the way, just look at the playing time!
Colin Clarke
EMI Great Recordings of the Century page


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