Magnificent! That is the word which springs constantly to mind when listening
to such an important recording, all the more astonishing that it has lain
languishing in Decca's vaults for the best part of fifty years. We have read
and re-read of the contractual difficulties marring and blocking the release
of this colossus amongst Wagner recordings and the stories have been told
many a time in recent magazines. Here, I am concerned solely with great singing
and playing, it would be safe to say that this is one of the finest casts
ever assembled in the history of 'Gotterdamerung'.
And the orchestral playing, sheer beauty from first note to last! Decca's
inimitable Kenneth Wilkinson secured sound of the utmost clarity thus lending
awesome power and thrust to the artistic proceedings that were already on
white-hot levels. Knappertsbusch's conducting is indeed inspired, especially
in the big orchestral moments, Siegfried's Rhine Journey and the awesome
Funeral March. The instinctive feel for pulse and tempo of this great Wagnerian
conductor is all apparent in the grasp he has throughout the mammoth score.
Wagnerian singing in the 1950's was probably at its highest peak. This is
thoroughly in evidence with Astrid Varnay's incomparable Brunnhilde. Brought
in as a last minute replacement to Kirsten Flagstad, she sweeps all before
her in a performance of unparalleled power and truly superb Wagnerian singing.
Her voice never fails to thrill both for its majesty and sheer magnificence,
coaxed on by Knappertsbusch, her Brunnhilde dwarfs other previous great
achievements such as Nilsson''s eminently more famous 1965 studio recording.
I was not that familiar with Bernd Aldenhoff's role, but his Siegfried is
suitably pompous and fantastic. Hermann Uhdhe is also an unquestionably fine
Gunther and Elisbaeth Hiongen's Waltraute is the stuff of dreams.
The other roles are taken with customary authority and it is a joy to hear
the young Elisabeth Schwarzkopf as Woglinde, a true example for this character.
After listening to the whole performance in one go, I thought that it rather
defies criticism in the sense that all moves forward like a giant and inexorable
battering ram of greatness. The sound suffers from some bass heavy overload
but otherwise is rather splendid for 1951. That is another tribute to the
unique skills of John Culshaw and Kenneth Wilkinson, a prelude to the great
recordings of the 1960's. I would wholeheartedly agree with Stewart Brown
in his statement, that 'this is the important one'. All devotees of
'Gotterdamerung' simply must have this long lost recording in their collection,
its availability is a true cause for rejoicing.