Richard WAGNER (1813 - 1883)
Brünnhilde - Astrid Varnay (soprano)
Siegfried - Wolfgang Windgassen (tenor)
Hagen - Josef Greindl (bass)
Alberich - Gustav Neidlinger (bass-baritone)
Gunther - Hermann Uhde (baritone)
Gutrune - Natalie Hinsch-Gröndahl (soprano)
Waltraute - Ira Malaniuk (contralto)
Woglinde - Erika Zimmermann (soprano)
Wellgunde - Hetty Plümacher (mezzo)
Floßhilde - Gisela Litz (soprano)
1. Norne - Maria von Ilosvay (alto)
2. Norne - Ira Malaniuk (alto)
3. Norne - Regina Resnik (mezzo)
Choir and Orchestra of the Bayreuth Festival/Clemens Krauss
rec. live, in concert, Bayreuth Festival, 12 August 1953
PRISTINE AUDIO PACO042a (2 CDs) PACO042b (2 CDs) [4:19:53]
Having just reviewed all three preceding “music-dramas” for MusicWeb International, I was eagerly awaiting the arrival of this final instalment. In many ways it represents a fitting climax to a superb achievement by Andrew Rose, who clearly worked at superhuman pace to remaster the entire “Ring” so quickly and to such a high standard. This set surpasses even his previous achievement: the singing, the orchestral playing and the immediacy and clarity of the sound are all markedly superior, such that I really could forget that it is in mono and temporarily luxuriate in the fantasy that this live “Götterdämmerung” marks the culmination of what really is the best “Ring” on the market.
A few things bring me back to earth: a few flubs and imprecisions in orchestral ensemble, the nagging conviction that Windgassen’s rather dry tone and a tendency to bleat and bark is hardly ideal for the barely post-adolescent Siegfried and a tremulous, gusty, hooty Gutrune who is possibly the least satisfactory on record - but so much else is captivating that it is not too difficult to overlook those shortcomings.
At least Windgassen seems to have overcome the first night nerves which in “Siegfried” caused him regularly to sing ahead of the beat and make so many errors; here he seems far more confident and secure. Perhaps Varnay’s rock-steady musicality reassured and inspired him, as they make a most impressive team, especially in the ecstatic duet in the Prologue. Varnay, a little trademark scooping and the occasional, forgivable squalliness notwithstanding, is also just terrific in the “Starke Scheite”, whacking out top Bs and B-flats with absolute security and standing comparison with the greatest exponents of Brünnhilde such as Frida Leider and Birgit Nilsson. She is also a thrilling actress whose words are generally pellucid, and she rides the orchestra easily - all the more important now that the remastering has given the latter more prominence.
The supporting singers, Hinsch-Gröndahl‘s Gutrune apart, are of the highest calibre, headed by Greindl’s star-turn as Bayreuth’s resident cave-man, his big, black, burly sound perfect for conveying Hagen’s bestial cunning and brutality. As is often the case with this artist, he is not always ideally steady, but he lives the part very convincingly. Equally impressive is Uhde’s incomparable Gunther: nervy, febrile and beautifully vocalised; alongside it, Fischer-Dieskau’s characterisation for Solti seems pale and small-scale. The trio at the end of Act 2 in which Brünnhilde, Gunther and Hagen swear vengeance on Siegfried is always a key point for me and all three singers rise magnificently to its challenges. Nor does Krauss fail here, as he very occasionally does in “Die Walküre”, to generate the requisite tension; indeed I think his pacing of this whole massive work is swift, sweeping and masterly. The Norns are suitably grave and weighty of voice and the other female trio, the Rheinmaidens (“a sort of aquatic Beverley Sisters”, to quote Anna Russell), are a delightful team; sweet and ethereal, maintaining lovely intonation in their tripartite harmonies in thirds. The rich-voiced contralto Ira Malaniuk reminds us what a fine singer she was in her big scene as an alternately grave and frantic Waltraute. Similarly, Neidlinger reasserts his claim in a cameo appearance as the finest Alberich of his generation, in a typically incisive vignette in his nocturnal visit to his son, Hagen.
In previous evenings, Krauss was inclined to hurry proceedings along and sometimes ensemble was less than precise, but here there is a gratifyingly large-scale sense of control, vision and pacing; take for example the segue from Waltraute’s departure to the appearance of Siegfried disguised by the Tarnhelm as Gunther. Krauss seems to me to manage the sequence of all Brünnhilde’s emotions, through defiance, determination, exultation, and shocked disbelief; the orchestral coloration is both subtle and skilful, much more like the performance for Karajan the preceding year in “Tristan”.
The re-mastering has permitted an astonishing range of frequencies to emerge; orchestral details and a sense of theatrical space are now so much more in evidence. The enhanced aural scope reveals the fact that the audience were mostly remarkably quiet and it would be a churl who complained about the newly audible hiss of the flames engulfing the funeral pyre; the noise of the stage machinery in the Keilberth “Ring” on Testament is by all accounts more distracting.
A splendid achievement, then, is this Pristine Audio “Ring”. It makes the prospect of the appearance of further remasterings by Andrew Rose of hitherto muddy-sounding classics, such as Krauss’s “Parsifal”, all the more enticing.