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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Great Wagner Voices
Anja Silja, Elisabeth Grümmer, Josef Greindl, Theo Adam, Martina Arroyo, Ingrid Bjoner, Franz Crass, Gottlob Frick, Catarina Ligendza, Rudolf Schock
Arias from: Tannhäuser, Lohengrin, Der fliegende Holländer, Walküre, Götterdämmerung, Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Tristan und Isolde
Münchner Rundfunkorchester (Munich Radio Orchestra)
Conductors: Kurt Eichhorn, Hans Gierster, Siegfried Köhler, Arnold Quennet, Fritz Rieger, Horst Stein
rec. 1963-71 Munich, Germany
No sung texts provided
Full Track-Listing at end of review
BR KLASSIK 900310 [73:24]

The ‘Great Singers Live’ series from BR Klassik with individual releases for Mirella Freni, Herman Prey, Elisabeth Grümmer, Nicolai Ghiaurov, Lucia Popp and Margaret Price has been nothing short of remarkable.
To commemorate the 200th anniversary of Richard Wagner’s birth this new release in the ‘Great Singers Live’ series brings together ten renowned Wagner voices in a twelve track collection of famous Wagnerian arias. Taken from the archives of Bavarian Broadcasting all these live recordings were made for radio broadcast, mainly at the famous Munich ‘Sunday Concerts’ between in the years 1963 and 1971.
I can report that the sound quality of these live Wagner recordings is consistent and to a high standard. In the accompanying booklet there is a short pen-picture of each singer but no sung texts are provided. Each conductor seems well prepared and the Munich Radio Orchestra well rehearsed as the standard of performance of each song is consistently high.
With each singer having something different to offer I enjoyed every single track. The singers I am most familiar with are the German sopranos Elisabeth Grümmer (1911-1986) and Anja Silja (b. 1940); Silja was still performing opera earlier this year aged seventy-two. Controversially in the 1960s I recall it was Silja that controversially replaced Grümmer in the role of Eva in Die Meistersinger at Bayreuth.
Grümmer’s operatic début was in 1940 and she became celebrated for her Wagner, Richard Strauss and Mozart, and sang several roles at Bayreuth from 1957 to 1961. Recorded in 1964 with Elisabeth’s prayer ‘Allmächt’ge Jungfrau, hör mein Flehen!’ from Tannhäuser she demonstrates her musicality especially her innate feeling for the words. Her smooth and fluid voice has a fresh and most attractive timbre and darkens perceptibly in the low register. Her vibrato although noticeable never seems intrusive. At the time of writing there is a newly released single disc of Elisabeth Grümmer singing Mozart in the ‘Great Singers Live’ series on BR Klassik900308.
Renowned as a singing-actress, Berlin-born Silja was a mere fifteen years of age when she made her operatic debutas Rosina in Il Barbiere di Siviglia. Growing up with Wagner’s music she sang most of Wagner’s soprano roles appearing at Bayreuth from 1960 to 1967. From 1966 she sings Senta’s ballade ‘Johohoe! Traft ihr das Schiff im Meere an’ from Der fliegende Holländer. She is in bright and radiant voice. I do however find her high register a touch piercing and when under strain there is a tendency for jerkiness in her line. Here Silja’s mid-range evinces a smooth tone that noticeably darkens.
Norwegian soprano Ingrid Bjoner (1927-2006) whose career spanned from 1956 to 1990 was renowned for her Wagnerian and Strauss roles. She sang with the Bavarian State Opera for twenty-eight years and at Bayreuth. Recorded in 1963 as Elisabeth with her Hall aria ‘Dich, teure Halle, grüß’ ich wieder’ from Tannhäuser the resilient Bjoner moves sharply through her registeralthough the high notes feel a touch shrill.
The various biographies of New York City born Arroyo cannot agree whether her year of birth is 1936 or 1937. Although associated mainly with Verdian roles she was a leading soprano for some years at the New York Met where she sang Wagner whilst still a fledgling singer. Here from 1969 Arroyo, displaying her rich and smooth timbre, is heard in Elsa’s dream ‘Einsam in trüben Tagen hab ich zu Gott geflehtfrom Lohengrin.
Swedish soprano Catarina Ligendza (b. 1937) was steeped in Wagner from a young age as both her parents had Wagner roles at Stockholm. Ligendza sang at Bayreuth as a dramatic soprano from 1971 to 1977 returning in 1987 and being cast mainly in the roles of Brünnhilde and Isolde. In this 1971 recording from Tristan und Isolde, Ligendza sings Isolde’s famous LiebestodMild und leise wie er lächelt’. I enjoyed the performance and was immediately struck by her glorious top register and bright milky tone. Her vibrato was noticeable but not intrusive, although, her diction was a slight weakness.
The first male voice on the release is the German tenor Rudolf Schock (1915-1986) who was noted for singing a wide range of repertoire. As a young man he was in the chorus for Lohengrin at Bayreuth and he was able return there as a soloist. Recorded in 1963 Schock is heard here in the Grail narration ‘In fernem Land unnahbar euren Schritten’ from Lohengrin. Bright, smooth and sweet, I can certainly hear a heroic quality in Schock’s baritonal voice.
Renowned for his excellent diction German bass Gottlob Frick (1906-1994) was equally at home singing a range of repertoire from Wagner to Mozart to operetta. In the 1940s he was engaged by the Dresden State Opera for a number of years and later at the Deutsche Oper Berlin, Berlin. Frick sang at the Bayreuth, firstly as Veit Pogner returning a while later as Hunding and Hagen. It is hard to fault his fine vocal condition in 1965 in Daland’s aria ‘Mögst du, mein Kind, den fremden Mann willkommen heißen’ from Der fliegende Holländer. Although described by Furtwängler as the “the blackest bass in Germany” the rich-voiced and well focused Frick doesn’t sound especially dark here; actually more Verdian than Wagnerian.
Theo Adam (b. 1926) the Dresden born bass-baritone was a distinguished Wagnerian. Recorded in 1966, Adam sings both Wotan’s farewell ‘Leb wohl, du kühnes, herrliches Kind!’ and the FeuerzauberLoge, hör!’ from Die Walküre. He has such a lusty, masculine voice with a smooth, polished finish; very expressive too with excellent diction. With these attributes it is no surprise that Adam first sang at the Bayreuth in 1952 and returned for most years until 1980. These two Theo Adam tracks are probably my favourites on the whole disc.
Munich-born bass Josef Greindl (1912-1993) is best known for his Wagnerian roles. He made his opera debut in 1936 as Hunding and from 1943 sang regularly at Bayreuth. Here from 1968 Greindl performs Hagen’s watch ‘Hier sitz ich zur Wacht’ from Götterdämmerung. It’s wonderful commanding and mature. Greindl is dark, gravelly and full in tone, sounding highly dramatic.
German bass Franz Crass (1928-2012) sang at Bayreuth most seasons from 1954 to 1972 and was known for his sensitive portrayals. Here from 1970 Crass sings the FliedermonologWas duftet doch der Flieder’ and the WahnmonologWahn! Wahn! Überall Wahn!’ from Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. This is commanding singing from Crass in the role of Hans Sachs and displays his exceedingly rich and smooth voice with its natural dark shading.

The BR Klassik ‘Great Singers Live’ series continues to plunder successfully the back catalogue of Bavarian Radio. This latest release offers some stunning singing and remains one of the most enthralling discs I have heard for some time.  

Michael Cookson

Full Track-Listing

Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
1. Tannhäuser: ‘Dich, teure Halle, grüß’ ich wieder’ [5:34]
Ingrid Bjoner, soprano (1927-2006)
Münchner Rundfunkorchester/Arnold Quennet
rec. 10 November 1963, Congress hall, Deutsche Museum, Munich
2. Tannhäuser: ‘Allmächt’ge Jungfrau, hör mein Flehen!’ [6:04]
Elisabe Grümmer, soprano (1911-1986)
Münchner Rundfunkorchester/Kurt Eichhorn
rec. 8 March 1964, Congress hall, Deutsche Museum, Munich
3. Lohengrin: ‘Einsam in trüben Tagen hab ich zu Gott gefleht’ [6:04]
Martina Arroyo, soprano (b. 1937)
Münchner Rundfunkorchester/Hans Gierster,
rec. 9 July 1969, Bavaria Musikstudio, Munich
4. Lohengrin: ‘In fernem Land unnahbar euren Schritten’ [5:08]
Rudolf Schock, tenor (1915-1986)
Münchner Rundfunkorchester/Horst Stein
rec. 26 January 1963, Congress hall, Deutsche Museum, Munich
5. Der fliegende Holländer: ‘Johohoe! Traft ihr das Schiff im Meere an’ [7:15]
Anja Silja, soprano (b. 1940)
Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks,
Münchner Rundfunkorchester/Fritz Rieger
rec. 15 July 1966, Studio 1, Bayerischer Rundfunk, Munich
6. Der fliegende Holländer: ‘Mögst du, mein Kind, den fremden Mann willkommen heißen’ [4:46]
Gottlob Frick, bass (1906-1994)
Münchner Rundfunkorchester/Siegfried Köhler,
rec. 14 March 1965, Congress hall, Deutsche Museum, Munich
7. Die Walküre: ‘Leb wohl, du kühnes, herrliches Kind!’ [10:33]
Theo Adam, bass-baritone (b. 1926)
Münchner Rundfunkorchester/Kurt Eichhorn,
rec. 16 January 1966, Congress hall, Deutsche Museum, Munich
8. Die Walküre: ‘Loge, hör!’ [4:41]
Theo Adam, bass-baritone (b. 1926)
Münchner Rundfunkorchester/Kurt Eichhorn,
rec. 16 January 1966, Congress hall, Deutsche Museum, Munich
9. Götterdämmerung: ‘Hier sitz ich zur Wacht’ [4:52]
Josef Greindl, bass (1912-1993)
Münchner Rundfunkorchester/Hans Gierster,
rec. 1 July 1968, Studio 1, Bayerischer Rundfunk, Munich
10. Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg: ‘Was duftet doch der Flieder’ [6:14]
Franz Crass, bass (1928-2012)
Münchner Rundfunkorchester/Kurt Eichhorn,
rec. 13-14 October 1970, Studio 1, Bayerischer Rundfunk, Munich
11. Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg: ‘Wahn! Wahn! Überall Wahn!’ [7:09]
Franz Crass, bass (1928-2012)
Münchner Rundfunkorchester/Kurt Eichhorn,
rec. 13/14 October 1970, Studio 1, Bayerischer Rundfunk, Munich
12. Tristan und Isolde: ‘Mild und leise wie er lächelt’ [6:29]
Catarina Ligendza, soprano (b. 1937)
Münchner Rundfunkorchester/Kurt Eichhorn,
rec. 24 January 1971, Studio 1, Bayerischer Rundfunk, Munich