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Richard WAGNER (1813 - 1883)
Die Walküre (1870) [opera: 3:18:15]
Siegmund – Lauritz Melchior (tenor)
Sieglinde – Marjorie Lawrence (soprano)
Hunding – Emanuel List (bass)
Wotan - Julius Huehn (baritone)
Brünnhilde – Kirsten Flagstad (soprano)
Fricka – Karin Branzell (mezzo)
Gerhilde – Thelma Votipka (soprano)
Ortlinde – Maxine Stellman (soprano)
Waltraute – Doris Doe (mezzo)
Schwertleite – Anna Kaska (alto)
Helmwige – Dorothee Manski (soprano)
Siegrune – Helen Olheim (alto)
Grimgerde – Irra Petina (mezzo)
Roßweise – Lucielle Browning (alto)
Additional interval recordings:
Kirsten Flagstad [4:37]
Lauritz Melchior [6:04]
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra/Erich Leinsdorf
rec. live, NBC broadcast, 15 February 1940, Metropolitan Opera, New York City.
Processed in Ambient Stereo
PRISTINE AUDIO PACO125 [3 CDs: 61:18 + 73:08 + 73:09]

This is one of three live broadcasts featuring Lauritz Melchior in “Die Walküre”. Now we have him not only paired with the greatest Brünnhilde of the century in Kirsten Flagstad but in by far the best sound yet, being Pristine’s re-mastering into Ambient Stereo from a new source of superior 33rpm acetate discs. There is still a little crackle and wear, especially from the beginning of the original sides but the hiss is minimal and Andrew Rose has artfully patched any gaps where music was missed owing to changeovers. We thus hear sound of extraordinarily fine quality for a recording seventy-five years old, with a superlative cast. This benefits not only from the pairing of the two finest Wagnerians of their generation but a beautiful Wotan from the now almost forgotten American baritone Julius Huehn and a touching, vibrant Sieglinde from Marjorie Lawrence just before the curtailment of her career as a result of her contracting polio the following year; she makes “O hehrstes Wunder” the crucial high point of the opera that it should be.

Huehn in particular is an improvement over the aging Friedrich Schorr, who was in his time the greatest Wotan but was by this stage increasingly having trouble with his top notes. Huehn by contrast is utterly at ease with the tessitura, including a ringing top F, and sings with strength, nobility and subtlety. He may not quite have the vocal weight of other exponents of this demanding role but his Farewell is really moving and delicate; he sounds as fresh in “Leb wohl” as he did two hours earlier. It’s a pity that at the climactic closure of Act II, we cannot hear his “Zurück von dem Speer” as he is placed too far back on stage, but no Wotan in my listening experience, apart from Hotter in his prime, voices “Der freier als ich, der Gott” so touchingly and with such quiet despair.

I particularly like Leinsdorf’s 1961 studio recording of this opera but he was already master of the score here over twenty years earlier. His conducting, while undoubtedly swift and pacy, is lyrical and energised by turns and of course he indulges his star tenor by sustaining the strings tremolo on Siegmund’s repeated “Wälse” to extraordinary lengths while Melchior leans into the crescendos thrillingly. He begins Act I sounding genuinely exhausted then builds and builds throughout the Act with clarion intensity.

Emanuel List is just a little rockier than in his famous recording of Act I in Berlin with Bruno Walter five years earlier but his black bass is still mightily imposing.

Flagstad pins back our ears from her first “Ho-jo-to-ho!”; she is in marvellous voice and peak condition. When the contribution of Karin Branzell as Fricka is added to the mix, we have an unbeatable trio of Wagnerian female voices which would themselves alone be worth hearing even without the presence of Melchior and Huehn.

This is a recording for the ages and every devotee of this wonderful opera should hear Pristine’s revitalisation of it.
Ralph Moore



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