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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883) Die Walküre: Act 3
Helen Traubel (soprano) - Brünnhilde
Herbert Janssen (baritone) - Wotan
Irene Jessner (soprano) – Sieglinde
Valkyries: Doris Doe, Anna Kaskas, Jeanne Palmer, Maxine Stellman, Hertha Glaz, Martha Lipton, Doris Doree, Irene Jessner
Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York/Artur Rodziński
rec. 27 February & 15, 18, 22 May 1945, Carnegie Hall, New York
XR remastering - Ambient Stereo PRISTINE AUDIO PACO180 [61:52]
Here’s a tasty treat for Wagnerites: the first truly complete – that is, without the usual cuts - recording of Act 3 of Die Walküre conducted with fire and impetus by Artur Rodziński with a fine cast gleaned from the Metropolitan Opera roster, remastered into Ambient Stereo by Pristine.
Helen Traubel might not be Kirsten Flagstad but she is hardly inferior and is here singing one of her most celebrated Wagnerian roles. Wotan is sung by Met stalwart Herbert Janssen; he is admirable but as much as I esteem Friedrich Schorr, Hans Hotter, Ferdinand Frantz and Thomas Stewart, I invariably have trouble getting George London out of my head whenever I listen to anyone else singing this role and Janssen, distinguished artist though he was, is not in that company.
What better way to open a recording than with a muscular, thrilling Ride of the Valkyries? The ladies themselves are not the best bunch I have ever heard but they are good enough and Rodziński drives them and his orchestra hard. Traubel’s warm, yet gleaming, voice cuts through everything without any shrillness and Irene Jessner is similarly powerful but with some edginess in her tone. I have heard more rapturous accounts of her famous “O herstes Wunder!” outburst and there are more furious and menacing summons of Brünnhilde’s than the Jansen’s light, soft-grained baritone can issue. He sings well enough within the limitations of his voice and his diction is excellent but he lacks the bite and resonance of the exponents of Wotan I name above; nor do I think he plumbs the depths of sorrow as they do, first sounding more regretful than heartbroken compared with the profound suffering Hotter evokes. Traubel, on the other hand, exploits her sonorous lower register, rounded middle voice and ringing top notes to suggest real anguish. Responding to Traubel’s emotional depth, Janssen begins to sound far more involved in his monologue “So tatest du” but his own low notes are growly as he was indeed not the bass-baritone best suited to singing Wotan but a true baritone. I am sure his handsome stage presence, musicality and clear enunciation carried the day live but with a performance on disc the listener can be more exigent. He does what he can with “Leb wohl” but I miss the sense of titanic struggle and overwhelming grief that George London conjures up via the pathos of his taming his huge voice. “Der Augen leuchtendes Paar” is a mite tremulous – perhaps suggestive of tears - but he makes a fine job of the climactic top F on “fürchtet”
and his voice is surely somehow given more air and ambience around it for that final section.
It is a mark of Rodziński’s mastery that the drama unfolds so naturally that we forget the mechanics of his conducting; his propulsiveness in combination with an unerring sense of how to apply rubato to a phrase ensure that despite this being one of the fastest recordings of the Act, there is no sense of rush, just an inexorable progress towards the fiery conclusion; the Magic Fire Music is perfectly gauged and played.
My reservations – primarily concerning Janssen’s suitability to portray Wotan - notwithstanding, this is a genuinely absorbing and engaging recording, superbly revitalised by the Pristine remastering.