Richard WAGNER (1813-1883) The Potted Ring- Volume 3 and Appendices Götterdämmerung (1876)
rec. 1926-31 PRISTINE AUDIO PACO118 [3 CDs: 65.06 + 77.03 + 60.30]
It may be perverse, but it makes some sense to deal in the first instance with the supplementary disc provided here containing the Appendices. Just over half of this disc consists of six excerpts from Siegfried featuring Rudolf Laubenthal, which were jettisoned from the original 78rpm boxes in favour of the tracks featuring Lauritz Melchior which were issued by Pristine as Volume 2 of their ‘potted Ring’. One can see the reasons for the substitution; Melchior was, as I have observed in
my review of Volume 2, the most recommendable feature of the Siegfried recordings, and moreover the excerpts given there were much less truncated than those here. Nor is Laubenthal anything like as impressive as Melchior, sounding unpleasantly strained in the more strenuous passages of the role; and although Frida Leider is excellent as Brünnhilde in the extracts from the final love duet, the massive omissions from the score do much to vitiate the viability of what we are given here.
Nor does the singing on the first CD of Götterdämmerung do much to substantiate the often-trumpeted notion of the 1920s and 1930s as a ‘golden age’ of Wagnerian singing. The Prologue, briskly despatched by Coates, features a trio of Norns none of whom would pass muster today and in particular the pipingly small-voiced Noel Eadie who completely fails to engender any sense of drama as the scene moves towards its climax. When the lovers finally appear, Florence Austral and Walter Widdop seem to be flailing frantically to keep up with the headlong pace that is set for them by Albert Coates; and once the curtain has descended, he despatches the Rhine Journey at a speed that would give the Flying Dutchman pause for thought. Even Alan Blyth, normally an admirer of this conductor, describes his pace here as “ridiculously fast.” Nor, when we reach the Gibichung court, do things improve much, since neither Arthur Fear and Frederic Collier begin to come to terms with the dramatic element of their characters and it is left to Göta Ljungberg in her few phrases to supply an element of vocal distinction.
The record containing the oath of blood brotherhood did not form part of the original boxed set of 78s but was clearly intended to fill in a gap in the plot which would otherwise have existed, and here everything suddenly comes to life. Lauritz Melchior and Friedrich Schorr make an ideal coupling, and the excerpt here leads nicely into Hagen’s Watch which is given a performance by Ivan Andrésen which is quite simply superlative, encompassing the lowest notes with ease and producing tone and diction which are black as night. He is equally good in the high notes of his summoning of the vassals (slightly cut) where the chorus respond superbly to his call, although no attempt is made to comply with Wagner’s request for a smaller number of voices in the opening section. Before that, at the end of the first CD, we have heard a solidly contralto performance of Waltraute’s scene from Maartie Offers, although she displays distinct signs of uneasiness on her highest notes, some of which she truncates very abruptly. This excerpt goes on through the exchanges with Brünnhilde, only concluding on the entry of this disguised Siegfried. Albert Coates takes surprisingly slow tempos throughout this scene, except in the passage describing Wotan’s felling of the World Ash Tree which takes on a sudden spurt of energy which verges on the jaunty. One suspects that this, and perhaps other unexpectedly fast tempi, may have been conditioned by the need to fit the music onto one side of a 78rpm record.
Widdop and Austral are efficient rather than exciting in their taking of their conflicting oaths, and the trio which concludes the Second Act relies largely on Austral to generate much sense of drama although Collier and Fear are in better voice than before. The opening scene of Act One (complete with a niggling cut of some ten bars) suffers from a totally unengaged trio of Rhinemaidens. Their warning to Siegfried of the curse on the Ring is so dismally unthreatening that one can hardly blame the hero for ignoring them. Laubenthal is in better voice here than in Siegfried, with less purely heldentenor tones required for the delivery of his narration. Here we are given the interjections of the vassals with the solo voice that Wagner designates, but it sounds as though the lines are given to Desider Zador as Gunther – which can be the only explanation that the one tenor vassal’s lines are simply omitted. Alan Blyth describes this recording of the narration as “one of the most clearly balanced 78s I have ever heard” – and although Mark Obert-Thorn has done wonders with the sound throughout, it is true nonetheless that this section has a presence that one might well expect from a mono recording made more than twenty years later. Leo Blech is an excellent conductor in these sections, with a greater sense of moderation in speed than Coates. But then Coates also springs a surprise with a very measured account of the Funeral March, although an editing quirk introduces a couple of additional timpani beats just after the march begins (presumably the result of combining two different takes).
Florence Austral’s Immolation Scene suffers from a similar combination of material from two sessions, her voice sounding very much more distant at the beginning than at the end. There is also an inexcusable cut of some fifteen bars before the line “Ruhe, ruhe, du Gott!” which is all the more galling when one realises that this omission comes at the expense of the exchange between Brünnhilde and Gutrune which precedes the scene itself, and which is not helped by a very underpowered delivery by Ljungberg (or maybe she was just too far away from the microphones). We hear the voice of Hagen (uncredited) at the end, and I am pleased to note that he really sings his line “Give back the Ring” rather than shouting as so many modern exponents of the role do.
Coates thankfully avoids any sense of rush in the closing pages, but he does adopt the bad habit of making an unmarked ‘air pause’ before the last ten bars and the final chord is truncated rather abruptly. In the earlier part of the scene, despite the inferior recording, Lawrence Collingwood takes a properly measured and dignified approach.
Collingwood is also responsible for the delivery of the brief snippets of leitmotifs on the Appendix CD (which was originally issued on 78s separately). Each of these is preceded by an announcer giving a number, which refers the listener to the booklet where an explanation of each motif is given. This may have been valuable to audiences at the time, but it hardly comes up to the standards of Deryck Cooke’s marvellous exposition of Wagner’s compositional methods on his 2-CD lecture which originally accompanied Solti’s Ring (it remains available separately, as well as in the Decca luxury limited edition). The identification of the numbered motifs here also leaves much to be desired, with the principal love theme described as ‘Flight’ in accordance with Walzogen’s original error in his analysis published during Wagner’s lifetime and criticised by the composer for its inaccuracies. The two other tracks on the Appendix CD contain performances of the two orchestral sections of Götterdämmerung which were superseded in the 78rpm boxed sets; but they have a particular interest in that they are conducted by the veteran Wagnerian Karl Muck, whose association with Bayreuth extended back to the nineteenth century. Both extracts are truncated rather curiously, just coming to a halt before the music actually stops. In the main set the Funeral march is provided with a concert conclusion, but otherwise the excerpts stick to Wagner’s operatic score. There are some other points of historical interest, such as a bass trumpet which is clearly not the valved trombone that one finds used on other recordings of the period; and the cowhorns in the summoning of the vassals are simply trombones and not the specially constructed instruments that were at that stage still employed at Bayreuth.
I have had much pleasure in reviewing the seven CDs that Pristine have produced over the last year enshrining what has been described as the “Old Testament” of Wagnerian interpretation in the period immediately following the First World War. There are some singers here whose natural abilities still match or even transcend anything we can hear today; but it has to be said that the much-admired conducting of Albert Coates hardly bears scrutiny on the basis of these recordings, and the same could be said for a good deal of the singing in minor roles. Even as late as the 1950s live performances of The Ring show a propensity for performers to make mistakes which would hardly be tolerated today (see the Clemens Kraus Bayreuth Ring for an example, riddled with horrific errors of various sorts) but on these discs, without presumably much opportunity for retakes, the performers display a sense of security which is admirable. I note with some surprise the manner in which the singers slow down for cadences at the end of phrases to an extent which might occasion comment today, although Wagner does not always seem to expect them to do so; one wonders to what degree he accepted this in his own performances? Those who have an interest in such matters, as well as those who would like to encounter a sense of vocal history in the making, are earnestly recommended to hear these discs, with transfers which are unlikely ever to be bettered. Paul Corfield Godfrey
Details Prologue1 (complete): Begrüsse froh, o Held:2 Hast du, Gunther, ein Weib?:3 Hier sitz ich zur Wacht:4 Seit er von dir geschieden:5 Hoiho!:6 Helle Wehr!:7 Welches Unholds List:8 Frau Sonne:9 Mime heiss’ ein mürrische Zwerg:10 Siegfried’s Funeral March:11 Schweigt eures Jammers:12 Sein Ross fuhret daher13
Motives from The Ring14 [15.54]
Siegfried (1876) [32.08]
Nothung! Nothung!:15 Das er mein Vater nicht ist:15 Forest murmurs15 (orchestral version): Heiss ward mir:15 Heil dir, Sonne!:15 Ewig war ich:15 O Siegfried!15
Götterdämmerung (1876) [12.28]
Siegfried’s Rhine Journey:16 Funeral march116
Florence Austral1,5,7,8,11,12 and Frida Leider15 (sopranos) – Brünnhilde; Walter Widdop,1,2,7 Lauritz Melchior3 and Rudolf Laubenthal9,15 (tenors) - Siegfried); Gladys Palmer1 (contralto) – First Norn; Evelyn Arden1 (soprano) – Second Norn; Noel Eadie1 (soprano) – Third Norn; Arthur Fear,2,8 Friedrich Schorr3 and Desider Zador10 (baritones) – Gunther; Göta Ljungberg2,12 and Lieselotte Krumrey-Topas9 (sopranos) – Gutrune; Frederic Collier,2,8 Rudolf Watzke,3 Ivar Andrésen4,6 and Emanuel List10 (basses) – Hagen; Maartie Offers5 (contralto) – Waltraute; Tilly de Garmo9 (soprano) – Woglinde; Lydia Kindermann9 (soprano) – Wellgunde; Elfriede Marherr9 (contralto) – Flosshilde; 1.2,5,7, 11London Symphony Orchestra/Albert Coates; 3,9,10, 15Berlin State Opera Orchestra and 6Chorus/Leo Blech; 12, 14London Symphony Orchestra/Lawrence Collingwood; 16BBerlin State Opera Orchestra/Karl Muck
rec. 1,7,8Kingsway Hall, London, 26 January 1926, 17-18 October 1928 and 3 January 1929; 2Kingsway Hall, 10 October 1928; 3Philharmonie, Berlin, 15 June 1929; 4,9,10Singakademie, Berlin, 17 February and 7 September 1928; 5Kingsway Hall, 23 August and 25 October 1927 and 16 February 1928; 11Kingsway Hall, 26 January and 26 March 1926; 12Kingsway Hall, London, 1 December 1927; 13Kingsway Hall, 25-26 August and 25 October 1927; 14Kingsway Hall, 17 April and 23 May 1931; 15Singakademie, Berlin, 25 and 27 August 1927; 16Singakademie, Berlin, 10 December 1927