Now sixty years old and still the favourite studio recording of many, despite being recorded in mono, its appearance on Pristine in Ambient Stereo with greatly improved sound renews its claims to being the best version ever made.
How does one review afresh a recording which has been picked over by so many knowledgeable critics across so many years? It is by now almost traditional to regret the original mono and the fact that it was the first and only completed recording in the projected tetralogy for EMI, as Furtwängler died only two months later.
Hitherto, the Naxos re-mastering
has been the best available but direct comparison reveals that the new Pristine is a revelation, with much richer, deeper resonance, a sense of space around it and much enhanced clarity. This is immediately apparent from the moment the scurrying semi-quavers on the double basses strike up o depict Siegmund’s desperate flight from his pursuers. There is still a little hiss in the upper end of the sound spectrum but its removal would undoubtedly have compromised its immediacy and removed vital frequencies. Otherwise, this is one of the most significant and successful of the restorations engineer Andrew Rose has undertaken.
While it is possible to debate the relative merits of his singers, few would dispute that this is one of the best played and conducted performances on record. Furtwängler brings an epic sweep and flawless sense of pace and momentum to this, the most popular of the “Ring” Gesamtkunstwerke; the violas in that peerless love music for the Volsung twins have never sounded so rich and plaintive. The balance between soloists and orchestra is near ideal. Time and again you realise that Furtwängler strikes the right note, never descending into bombast or under-selling the tenderness of this glorious music by affecting understatement.
The singing is superb; Suthaus might not properly suggest exhaustion and Rysanek is characteristically a little hooty in their opening encounter but both soon settle to deploy what are clearly major voices; he is especially thrilling at the vital climax of the first Act. Frick is ideal as Hunding: sonorous, black-voiced and menacing. Klose is clearly at the veteran stage of her career and occasionally sounds a little mumsy but she rises to some powerful, impassioned singing in her long solo. The Valkyries are an impressive bunch, featuring some soon-to-be-famous names. Mödl makes some curdled sounds in the middle of her voice and is occasionally insecure but is, as ever, hugely committed as Brünnhilde. Frantz has a fundamentally beautiful voice and sings with huge authority, except when strained at the very top of his voice, when it suddenly thins out.
I would not want to be without either Furtwängler’s 1953 RAI or 1950 La Scala live recordings, especially as they, too, have both been so effectively rejuvenated by Pristine but this sole studio recording belongs in the collection of any true Wagnerite, especially now it sounds so marvellous.
Previous review (Naxos): Göran Forsling
Masterwork Index: Die Walküre