Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Götterdämmerung (1876) [260:12]
Brunnhilde - Kirsten Flagstad (soprano); Siegfried - Set Svañholm (tenor); Hagen - Egil Nordsjø (bass); Gutrune - Ingrid Bjoner (soprano); Waltraute - Eva Gustavson (mezzo); Gunther - Waldemar Johnsen (baritone); Alberich - Per Grönneberg (baritone); Woglinde - Unni Bugge-Hanssen (soprano); Welgunde - Karen Marie Flagstad (soprano); Flosshilde - Beate Asserson (mezzo); 1st Norn - Eva Gustavson (alto); 2nd Norn - Karen Marie Flagstad (mezzo); 3rd Norn - Ingrid Bjoner (soprano)
Norwegian Opera Chorus
Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra; Norwegian Opera Orchestra/Øivin Fjeldstad.
rec. 5, 8, 10 January 1956, Norwegian Radio Studios, Oslo; 14 March, 1956, University Hall, Oslo. ADD. Mono
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.112066-69 [4 CDs: 52:40 + 59:59 + 69:37 + 77:56]
This Norwegian recording was fairly coolly received on its appearance in 1956 and has never really featured in the list of top recommendations. Critics spoke respectfully and affectionately of the great Kirsten Flagstad’s contribution. It is indeed a phenomenon that she could undertake so arduous a role in her sixty-first year, but there is no disguising the fact that her voice is no longer that which “once moved heaven and earth”. There are edgy, even screechy patches, a matronly tone and she avoids any note above B-flat. At the end of what should be the great conspiracy trio which concludes Act II, she slides and makes some uncomfortable sounds; consequently that climactic point lacks the thrills provided by Nilsson, Frick, Fischer-Dieskau and Solti. On the other hand, the famous aureate amplitude of voice is still very much in evidence at certain points and there are frequent glimmers of the old majesty. One is still conscious of the sheer size of the voice even when the tone is a little curdled. The richness of her lower voice is intact and she mostly rises to the challenge of the climax to the entire tetralogy, with a grand “Starke Scheite”.
Her co-singers are a mixed bunch. Baritone Waldemar Johnsen is sadly inadequate as Gunther; he barks and yells. The Hagen of Egil Nordsjø too often sounds woolly and worn, without the requisite bite and darkness of tone that a really chilling impersonation of this role demands. He is better in quiet passages such as when he “sleep-talks” in answer to his father but the voice loses steadiness and power in the “Hoihos”.
Fortunately, there are compensations in the form of an excellent, incisive Alberich and some full-throated singing from the chorus. The conducting is unexpectedly first-rate. This is alternately driven and sensitive, by a conductor of whom most of us will never have heard, Øivin Fjeldstad. Some occasional tuning problems in the orchestra notwithstanding, he shapes and paces the orchestral passages beautifully so that preludes and the Funeral Music really make their mark. Set Svanholm was a very experienced and distinguished Swedish Wagnerian heldentenor. He is occasionally somewhat bleaty of tone in the Windgassen manner but very musical and dependable. He has the stamina to endure the rigours of the role and sustain intensity during his long narration scene just before the death, as well as the ability to produce a prolonged top C.
In the supporting cast, three good Norwegian singers double up variously as Norns, Rhinemaidens, Gutrune and Waltraute: mezzo-soprano Eva Gustavson is especially fine as the latter. The attractively-voiced Ingrid Bjoner makes much of Gutrune’s music in a role which is too often under-cast. The other Flagstad in the cast has something of a tremolo but it’s not distracting.
Flagstad was an enthusiastic advocate of this recording, not out of vanity but because it presented the Norwegian National Opera, of which she was briefly Director (1958-1960) as a company able to do justice to a great Wagnerian masterpiece. Her own fast-deteriorating health made it clear that she would not be able to record another. It was her determination that it should be commercially released that persuaded Decca’s John Culshaw to record the forty minutes of music missing from the original recording. The only thing preventing this from being complete is that it is missing the transitional orchestral interlude between the first and second scenes of Act I. This therefore remains the first (almost) complete commercial recording of Götterdämmerung and thus retains its historical importance as well as being of intrinsic artistic worth.
The mono recording has been re-mastered by Mark Obert-Thorn. It is still rather hissy but very listenable. Voices are prominent but the various orchestral lines may be heard. Cues and synopsis are provided but no libretto.
I would like to be able to say that this is the fulfilment of a Wagnerian’s dream but it isn’t. It nonetheless has sterling qualities. If only it had been recorded a few years earlier before age and Flagstad’s progressive ill-health had begun to take their toll.
Not the fulfilment of a Wagnerian’s dream but it has sterling qualities.