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Wagner: Die Walküre (Acts 1 and 2)
Alfred Jerger, Hans Hotter, Richard [Classical] Wagner
Wagner: Die Walküre (Acts 1 and 2)
Genre: Classical
 
In the early 1930s Bruno Walter planned to record the complete Die Walküre in Berlin, exploiting recent refinements in the electrical recording technique. However when the Nazis came to power, Jewish artists, including Wal...  more »

      
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Album Description
In the early 1930s Bruno Walter planned to record the complete Die Walküre in Berlin, exploiting recent refinements in the electrical recording technique. However when the Nazis came to power, Jewish artists, including Walter, were immediately under threat. The location of the recording was shifted to Vienna. In 1935 the whole of Act 1 and parts of Act 2 were taken down. Melchior, the finest Heldentenor of that or any time, and Lehmann managed to sound astonishingly youthful, while Hotter was to become the leading Wotan of the next two decades. Logistical and budgetary problems made it difficult to complete Act 2 and only in 1938 was the rest of it undertaken in Berlin, under the vastly experienced leadership of Bruno Seidler-Winkler.
 

CD Reviews

The Most Electrifying 'Walküre' Ever Recorded
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 10/24/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This is a recording that merits its status as a legend. It has everything ... except the opera's third act. An explanation: the recording was begun in 1935 in Vienna, under conductor Bruno Walter but owing to all kinds of technical and scheduling difficulties parts of the second act had to be recorded three years later with mostly the same singers in Berlin under Bruno Seidler-Winkler, himself no mean Wagner conductor, because Walter had by then left Hitler's Germany. And the third act was simply never recorded. Even so, it has never been out of print. Many years ago I owned this performance on an LP whose dreadful sound could not hide the intensity and beauty of the performance. This transfer, done by Naxos's miracle man, Mark Obert-Thorn, is absolutely stunning. There are many passages where one simply cannot tell that the recording was made seventy years ago. The voices are generally very forward and are extremely life-like. Except for occasional and quickly forgotten slight tubbiness and limited dynamic range the orchestral sound is more than satisfactory; indeed, it is about the best I've ever heard from recordings of that era. A transfer engineering triumph.

But the best part is the musical performance, cobbled together as it is in some respects. The cast is a dream. Get this:

Sieglinde----------Lotte Lehmann
Brünnhilde---------Marta Fuchs
Fricka-------------Margarete Klose
Siegmund-----------Lauritz Melchior
Wotan--------------Han Hotter
Hunding------------Emanuel List

Further, each of these singers is in extraordinary voice. It is as if they sense they are involved in a history-making endeavor in this, one of the first attempts to record 'Walküre.' Lehmann, who could later sound a bit matronly, here sounds ardently young and feminine. Melchior sings as well as I've ever heard him, a bronze baritonal sound that is absolutely rock-solid, coupled with fidelity to the music as written, not always present elsewhere with Melchior. Marta Fuchs, who made few recordings, is a young-sounding and intensely dramatic Brünnhilde; the voice is like a laser. The young Hans Hotter, then only 26, is singing his first Wotan, a role he made his own in the years to come. There is a strong, rather than hectoring, Fricka from the mezzo, Margarete Klose. Hunding is manly and dramatically apt as sung by Emanuel List. The Vienna portion (more than 2/3 of the recording) is played by the Vienna Philharmonic who as the Vienna State Opera Orchestra had this music in their bones. The Berlin portion utilized the Berlin Philharmonic who are only marginally below the VPO's level in this era. This is Bruno Walter's only major Wagnerian recording. This conductor, often cited as the quintessentially gemütlich Germanic conductor, leads an intensely dramatic performance. What a pity we don't have more Wagner from him.

Individual passages of note in Act I: Melchior's 'Ein Schwert verhiess mir der Vater,' and then 'Winterstürme' followed by the rapturous duet (Melchior, Lehmann) 'Du bist der Lenz.' Act II: the argument in Scene One between Fricka (Klose) and Wotan (Hotter), which is often just sort of skated over but here is full of fire and spirit. Then the most dramatically engaging 'Wotan's Monolog' (where he tells Brünnhilde the history of the Ring) that I've ever heard; this passage is sometimes scorned because it is so long and recounts material that presumably the informed opera-goer already knows. Not so here; Hotter makes us, as well as Brünnhilde, hang on every word. Klose's alternately confused and brave Brünnhilde, especially at the beginning of Act II, Scene 4 ('Siegmund! Sieh auf mich!) where she tells Siegmund he must die, is simply stunning.

The marginally less effective part of the recording is in the last part of Scene 5 when two different singers (Ella Flesch and Alfred Jerger) perform that scene's confrontation between Wotan and Brünnhilde. It's not that they are bad--in fact, they're quite good--but their voices are so very different from Fuchs's and Hotter's that it is a bit jarring.

This, obviously, is not going to be anyone's only recording of 'Die Walküre.' And although there is a scene by scene synopsis, there is no libretto; Naxos probably recognizes that anyone buying this 2CD set will probably already have a modern recording and a libretto.

Still, I suspect I will be reaching for this performance in preference to a number of other more modern performances that I own. It's that good! Once again I want to thank Naxos for making this and other significant historical recordings available in clear sound at a budget price. They keep coming up with winners like this, the 1931 French 'Manon,' the early Karajan 'Meistersinger,' the recently released 'Louise,' and others.

Most heartily recommended.

CD1=73:41
CD2=70:22
TT=2:24:03

Scott Morrison"
Wow
J. Cavanaugh | LA | 09/26/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Of course this recording has been around for years. Never-the-less, for new fans of Wagnerian opera who have never heard the 1st Act sung by Lehmann and Melchior this will be a revelation!

The 2nd Act is also near-overwhelming, and both together is the reason this recording stays in the catalog: It doesn't get much better than this!"
The Past Near-Perfect
The Aeolian | 04/09/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Imagine that you have access to a time machine: you set a few dials and you can be whisked to an orchestra seat for a performance by legendary artists. Now imagine that the charge for this fabulous journey is about fifteen dollars. That is what this two-CD set is tantamount to. The performers are among the most illustrious Wagnerians in the history of opera, whether caught in the prime (Lehmann and Melchior), or at the beginning (Hotter) of remarkable careers. They are joined by two equally renowned ensembles led for much of these recordings by the sterling Bruno Walter and for the rest by the distinguished Bruno Seidler-Winkler. The engineering has yielded sound so noise-free and expansive that the result might have been produced twenty years later than the actual 1930's dates. The listener doesn't have to "listen through" a veil of scratchy background and muted dynamics. All in all, this reissue superbly achieves what archival recordings strive for but all too often fall short of: it gives full reproduction of great performances so that one generation can clearly communicate with another. The only thing that keeps this recording from being perfect is the lack of a third act. As it is, even if you are a less-than-perfect Wagnerite these performances will grip you. Take the first step in your journey to a wonderful experience of the past and buy this music."