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Pristine Audio

Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Der Ring des Nibelungen
Das Rheingold (1856) [2:37:50]
Die Walküre (1856) [3:51:30]
Siegfried (1874) [4:06:25]
Die Götterdämmerung (1876) [4:27:40]
Soloists; Orchestra Sinfonica e Coro della Radio Italiana/Wilhelm Furtwängler
rec. 1953, Auditorio del Foro Italico, Rome.
Detailed listing at end of review

Experience Classicsonline

This cycle begs comparison above all with Furtwängler’s famous and incandescent recording of the La Scala Ring three years earlier in 1950, yet despite the fact that both live recordings equally bear the hallmark of his genius as a Wagner interpreter, they are conducted quite differently. In Milan, he is more driven and even at times manic, whereas in Rome the mood is broader and more brooding. His tempi at La Scala are almost as fast as Böhm's at Bayreuth in the 1966-67 Philips recording; here at RAI the tone for the whole cycle is loftier and more deliberate, although never dull. Furthermore, the Rome performances are played without cuts, unlike those at La Scala.
You will read elsewhere in numerous reviews a great deal of exaggerated criticism of the RAI orchestra, including some excessively harsh ridicule of their brass section. There are indeed a few bobbles and bloopers but nothing absurd, given that they were new to the music and clearly playing it with relish. The worst of the playing and of the sound is in the first opera of the tetralogy, Das Rheingold, where there is a fair number of raucous, ill-tuned moments from both the brass and the woodwind. By Die Walküre they seem to be in the groove and Furtwängler is very evidently getting what he wants in key orchestral passages such as the climax to the lovers’ duet in the Prologue of Die Götterdämmerung. Most of the time I am hardly aware of the supposed inadequacies of the RAI, nor is the Bayreuth orchestra for Krauss always beyond reproach or necessarily any better. I do not, it is true, hear in the sublime closing pages of Die Walküre the sheen on the strings we get from the Vienna Philharmonic with Solti or the LSO for Leinsdorf, but nor is the RAI’s playing a debacle.
It is interesting also to compare the two live Rings made so close to each other in the same year of 1953; Krauss at Bayreuth is more urgent and impulsive, whereas Furtwängler has an extraordinary over-arching sense of pacing, never rushed but always purposeful – yet he can produce the pyrotechnics, as in Siegfried’s Rhine Journey. In Die Walküre, Kraus has the edge over Furtwängler’s singers with the virile, baritonal Vinay as Siegmund; Windgassen remains too pale of voice to provide heft or thrills, nor do I find him very characterful in his other role as Loge, for all that he sings musically. On the other hand, Suthaus as Siegfried is a match for Vinay. Some will decidedly prefer Hotter’s Wotan to that of the more generalised Ferdinand Frantz, although the latter is utterly dependable. Konetzni’s Sieglinde is a bit laboured and she scoops; Resnik for Krauss, Rysanek for Klobucar and Brouwenstijn for Leinsdorf are all much more impassioned. On balance, therefore, with the exception of Windgassen, the singers in the Rome set are either literally the same or superior, Flagstad notwithstanding. Vickers and Nilsson provide the most electricity for Leinsdorf in the 1961 stereo recording and in the newly released Met broadcast on Sony, but the sound in the latter is mono and the conductor Klobucar tame and pedestrian compared with the three other conductors mentioned above. Furtwängler, in particular, has an extraordinarily architectural sense of shape and brings an intensity to his phrasing unmatched by any rival. Wagner’s eighth and sixteenth notes dance bewitchingly without any smudging or rushing, yet often his tempi are either the same or only marginally slower than those of the others. He has a particular gift for creating atmosphere; thus Fafner’s baleful presence sits brooding on the opening of Siegfried and an impalpable but haunting air of mystery pervades the first scene of Die Götterdämmerung. He encompasses the whole gamut of moods and emotions demanded by Wagner, from the tender wistfulness of Siegfried’s musing and reminiscing in the forest to the grand, cosmic utterance of his Funeral March. He even seems comfortable with the comic moments, bringing a light touch to Siegfried’s bickerings with Mime. His 1954 studio recording, although impressive, seems a little flat and studied in comparison.
The sound of this latest Pristine issue is now comparable to, if not better than, the Krauss Ring; but as both complete cycles are now available on that label you can own and compare them yourself in by far their finest incarnations to date. I am beginning to take the excellence of Andrew Rose’s XR re-mastering for granted, so thorough, painstaking and well-judged is his treatment of the EMI LPs, derived from the original broadcast tapes and first issued in 1972. Deryck Cooke famously declared that issue as "the greatest gramophone event of the century" – I wonder what he would have said if he had heard it in sound as good as Pristine gives us here. Obviously the La Scala recording has a much broader, theatrical acoustic whereas the Rome concert is narrower and more confined with voices more focused. That said, the later recording always was superior on account of the circumstances under which it was recorded and broadcast; this reincarnation by Andrew Rose makes it even more attractive despite the absence of Flagstad. For doubters or the merely curious, Pristine provides on their website aural snippets for purposes of comparison from the EMI 1972 issue on LPs, their 1990 CD re-mastering (reissued unchanged this year), the Gebhardt set from 2005 and an extended clip from Pristine’s own re-mastering; they speak for themselves and the latter is clearly far superior.
In any case, Martha Mödl is by no means a poor substitute for Flagstad. True, Mödl’s tone is never very beautiful and sometimes even sounds a bit curdled compared with Varnay and Nilsson. She ducks some high notes elsewhere and only just manages the high C at the end of the Prologue to Die Götterdämmerung. Nonetheless, the heft of her lower register is compelling and her singing is always intense and memorable; her very human vulnerability is in many ways preferable to Flagstad’s marmoreal grandeur. Ferdinand Frantz is the Wotan in both sets and to my ears is superb in both. He has a really sonorous Heldenbariton and even if he isn’t as nuanced, he sings subtly and is less susceptible to bark and wobble than Hotter, who is more evidently an actor-singer with a Lieder-singer’s care over words-painting and variety of expression. Both Frick (Fafner and Hunding) and Greindl (Fasolt and Hagen) are both Big Beasts, suitably dour and daunting. As Siegfried, Suthaus’s tenor has a heroic, baritonal ring similar to that of Vinay and, like him, also the stamina – no doubt greatly helped by the fact that apart from Das Rheingold which was performed complete in one sitting, the performance and recording of the cycle were spread over several nights, one Act per evening. Poell is superb as Donner and Gunther. Another stand-out voice in three roles is Sena Jurinac, soaring above the ensembles. Klose is marvellously portentous as Erda and the First Norn, and tragically eloquent, if a tad unsteady, as Waltraute. The experienced Alois Pernerstorfer and Gustav Neidlinger both excel as Alberich although the latter has the more biting voice. Smaller roles are cast from strength: a charming Woodbird from Rita Streich, a febrile Freia from Elisabeth Grümmer and a mellifluous Froh from Fehenberger.
A sticking point for some, however, is Julius Patzak’s restrained, neatly sung Mime – a far cry from the usual cackling psychopath. It is certainly interesting to hear Wagner’s music for Mime sung so sweetly and precisely. His characterisation of Mime as a calculating introvert is not necessarily inappropriate – although I still prefer a more conventional dwarf who wheedles and whines.
Documentation is minimal and no libretto is provided. However downloads include full scores of each of the operas which can be either viewed on-screen or printed out as desired.

One can forgive sound engineer Andrew Rose for paraphrasing Furtwängler’s words spoken to his wife on the way home from having completed the entire cycle with the Third Act of Die Götterdämmerung (speaking of Wagner): “I think he would have been satisfied with me”. I am certainly highly satisfied with both Furtwängler’s performance and Rose’s transfers. This remastered set is indispensable to Wagnerites everywhere.
Ralph Moore


Detailed Tracklist
Der Ring des Nibelungen
Das Rheingold (1856) [2:37:50]
Orchestra Sinfonica e Coro della Radio Italiana/Wilhelm Furtwängler
rec. 26 October 1953, Auditorio del Foro Italico, Rome.
Wotan: Ferdinand Frantz (bass-baritone)
Donner: Alfred Poell (baritone)
Froh: Lorenz Fehenberger (tenor)
Loge: Wolfgang Windgassen (tenor)
Fricka: Ira Malaniuk (contralto)
Freia: Elisabeth Grümmer (soprano)
Erda: Ruth Siewert (contralto)
Alberich: Gustav Neidlinger (bass-baritone)
Mime: Julius Patzak (tenor)
Fasolt: Josef Greindl (bass)
Fafner: Gottlob Frick (bass)
Woglinde: Sena Jurinac (soprano)
Wellgunde: Magda Gabory (soprano)
Flosshilde: Hilde Rössl-Majdan (mezzo)
Die Walküre (1856) [3:51:30]
Orchestra Sinfonica e Coro della Radio Italiana/Wilhelm Furtwängler
rec. 29 October and 3 & 6 November 1953 (plus possible material from earlier rehearsals from earlier during this period edited in), Auditorio del Foro Italico, Rome.
Siegmund: Wolfgang Windgassen (tenor)
Hunding: Gottlob Frick (bass)
Wotan: Ferdinand Frantz (bass-baritone)
Sieglinde: Hilde Konetzni (soprano)
Brünnhilde: Martha Mödl (soprano)
Fricka: Elsa Cavelti (mezzo)
Helmwiege: Judith Hellwig (soprano)
Ortlinde: Magda Gabory (soprano)
Gerhilde: Gerda Scheyrer (soprano)
Waltraute: Dagmar Schmedes (mezzo)
Siegrune: Olga Bennings (mezzo)
Rossweiße: Ira Malaniuk (contralto)
Grimgerde: Elsa Cavelti (mezzo)
Schwertleite: Hilde Rössl-Majdan (mezzo)
Siegfried (1874) [4:06:25]
Orchestra Sinfonica e Coro della Radio Italiana/Wilhelm Furtwängler
rec. 10, 13 &17 November 1953 (plus possible material from earlier rehearsals from earlier during this period edited in), Auditorio del Foro Italico, Rome.
Siegfried: Ludwig Suthaus (tenor)
Wanderer: Ferdinand Frantz (bass-baritone)
Mime: Julius Patzak (tenor)
Alberich: Alois Pernerstorfer (bass-baritone)
Fafner: Josef Greindl (bass)
Waldvogel: Rita Streich (soprano)
Brünnhilde: Martha Mödl (soprano)
Erda: Margarete Klose (mezzo)
Die Götterdämmerung (1876) [4:27:40]
Orchestra Sinfonica e Coro della Radio Italiana/Wilhelm Furtwängler
rec. 20, 24 & 27 November 1953 (plus possible material from earlier rehearsals from earlier during this period edited in), Auditorio del Foro Italico, Rome.
Siegfried: Ludwig Suthaus (tenor)
Gunther: Alfred Poell (baritone)
Hagen: Josef Greindl (bass)
Brünnhilde: Martha Mödl (soprano)
Gutrune: Sena Jurinac (soprano)
Waltraute / Die erste Norn: Margarete Klose (mezzo)
Die zweite Norn: Hilde Rössl-Majdan (mezzo)
Die dritte Norn: Sena Jurinac (soprano)
Alberich: Alois Pernerstorfer (bass-baritone)
Woglinde: Sena Jurinac (soprano)
Wellgunde: Magda Gabory (soprano)
Flosshilde: Hilde Rössl-Majdan (mezzo)


































































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