EleniGold | Boca Raton, FL | 02/17/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Testament's release of the 1955 second cycle Die Walkure may be the finest recorded performance of this work released -- live or studio. Modl and Varnay, both purveyors of raw, unalloyed female sexuality, are stunning. Modl, at the peak of her powers, is tremendous as Brunnhilde; and Varnay's Sieglinde is a real woman, not an awakening child. These two great artists would steal the show, but for Hotter's wonderful Wotan. Hotter was without doubt the greatest Wotan since World War ll (only Ferdinand Frantz was in the same league). All three are in top vocal form (yes, we all know about Modl's sometimes questionable upper register, Varnay's scooping, and Hotter's unsteadiness, but none of this in evidence on this occasion). Greindl, like Hotter also occasionally unsteady, is fearsome as Hunding, and Vinay is a fine Siegmund. Modl's scenes with Vinay and Hotter are simply devastatingly bittersweet and poignant. Milinkovic, a very under appreciated artist, is excellent as Fricka and the Valkyries are very good. Keilberth, long taken for granted, leads a marvellous performance. Bravo!!
My question for Testament: when will you release the second cycle Siegfried?"
The Magnificence of Martha and Company
Jim Lieberthal | Minneapolis, mn United States | 07/01/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This performance of 1955 is one of truly amazing depth, feeling, subtlety and excitement. I have literally dozens of Walkuere's in my Library, and this will be visited again and again, for many reasons.
It is incredible fortune to have the reigning greats of Bayreuth in the same opera, and interacting on this level of immense inspiration. Everyone is performing from an organically deep feeling for the characters and their situations, with stunning vocalism to convey the sincerity of each. I can literally feel the protagonists as they dig through this world, going for the attainment of their goals whatever the obstacles.
Moedl is amazing! Her voice is fully under command, rich and detailed, providing a sense here of the famous impact she had on the audiences who saw and heard her. When listening to her command of the role, and hearing Varnay in the same performance, I began to see something in a personal way of the direction of their energy while singing. Varnay, with her huge, heroic sound vaults forward and outward in her portrayal of Sieglinde. No, there is no shyness here, rather a strength, curiosity and daring commitment to change what her life has been. Moedl creates an energy that moves inwards to reveal the depth of feeling that Bruennhilde also has, yet rarely is revealed. Every utterance is genuinely sincere, I could feel her concern throughout Wotan's Monologue and her climax to the Todesverkuendigen Scene truly crowns the dramatic moment. So much beauty to her voiceI Can you tell I just love it! I did wonder after a while of listening through ear buds, whether she was miked as closely as others, that I'm really not quite sure about this.
Varnay is utterly intense as Sieglinde. Her stance is seconded by Vinay in his Siegmund. He truly is the tortured hero. It is nice to hear this side of Siegmund, as the monologues of Act 1 lead us to his defiance of the fate that dogs him. The singers of earlier generations took very heroic stances also, yet even with incredible skills and stunning voices, those artists still came across as a two-dimensional heroic. Not here. These are 3D interpretations. The madness of Sieglinde is for a change scary in it's intensity. Her scream when Siegmund is stabbed just slices through the listener.
Griendl is one of my favorite Hundings. His specificity in every facet of this role, brings a pregnant suspense even through the rests, so every pause, every word, every articulation tells you how malevolent Hunding can become. Every utterance counts.
Milinkovic, with her deeply rich sounds gains as her scene with Wotan continues. She definitely sounds like she wins in every respect. At first sounding a bit mushy, she focuses the tone later to meet the dramatic need and succeeds. Moedl's return actually sounds like an interruption of this intensity.
I have lived with Hotter's magisterial interpretations of Wotan for about 40 years, and have heard performances of his from the 1930's and onwards. I believe that Martha Moedl here inspired him to a very different inhabiting of the role from any I have previously heard, even with previous performances including Moedl as his Bruennhilde. Other performances reveal the heroic within the tortured god's soul. Here, there is a sensitivity, a searching quality to make the points in ways unique for this particular utterance of the part. He is actively going for the moment with a Lieder-like specificity and command. What surprised me the most, was his 'Lebwohl', Farewell to Bruennhilde. I have NEVER heard it so heartbreakingly melting in its delivery. I was astonished! Having been very familiar with numerous accounts by Hotter. himself, and many others, it would not be equaled in my experience until hearing the young James Morris essay the part for the first time many years later.
Keilberth's orchestral support during this performance was commented upon by Penelope Turing, in her famous memoir 'New Bayreuth' as having by the 1955 Festival, taken the full measure of the acoustical properties of the Bayreuth Theater with a proper balance between pit and stage. That hardly begins to sum up the total understanding of this work that flows from the pit every second of this work. UTTER command. Total understanding and a sensitive shifting of balance and tempi that create a living and breathing fabric which wraps the singers in it's dramatic folds. One never forgets the drama behind the music for an instant while Keilberth conducts. He has a gift for making it all sound natural, entirely convincing in it's unfolding. I don't believe I can say this for any other conductor that I have heard in these operas, except maybe for the wonderful Ferdinand Leitner. Many famous conductors of the past will yank attention to the pit by virtue of their technique, insight or inherent sense of drama. With Maestro Keilberth, I only hear the drama unfolding in a beautifully detailed articulation. It reaches it apex with the Farewell, so achingly beautiful from the orchestra with perfect balance, flow and unanimity with Hotter. Sensational. I would tell people to get this set for that and the Magic Fire Music which doesn't seem trite when executed to such lofty purpose.
If there is any question in your mind about whether to purchase this set or not, I encourage you to go for the experience and find what you can out of this magnificent moment.
It is truly a treasurable one!"
A Definitive Performance
Marc Musnick | 07/11/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I have wanted this cycle for a number of years which was available in mono as an import from Europe. But it never fit my budget. When I read that Testament was releasing the "Walkure" and the "Gotterdammerung", I patiently waited for a more affordable price through the Market Place. I still have not ordered the latter release, but I am thrilled by the "Walkure" performance. That was a hot night at Bayreuth. Also the advantage of hedging on buying the former available "pirate" was rewarded by having the performance in it's original Decca's glorious stereo sound.
I'm a big fan of Martha Mödl even when the results are variable. But here her Brunnhilde is caught in perfect voice. Her rich dark timber and expressive reading is complex and perhaps the most interesting Brunnhilde I've ever heard. There are great recordings of superb sopranos in the role and I was fortunate to hear Nilsson in her prime as the Walkure, but there's something deeper in Mödl's performance. The character's development and confusion and despair over her beloved father's punishment is really heart wrenching. I don't know if Testament is planning on releasing the "Siegfried" from this cycle, I hope they do, but as soon as I can, I will purchase the "Gotterdammerung" if only to hear where Mödl takes Brunnhilde at the apex of the cycle.
What an incredibly stimulating environment the festival must have been in those days. Singers must have been extremely inspired by the Wagner brothers' revisionist style of staging and design, as well as the expertise on the musical side. The swapping of roles and what appears to be a complete lack of egos and nothing but team playing is rare. Also singers took a cut in their fees to sing at the Festival. In her autobiography, Nilsson admits she learned how to act at Bayreuth.
The first act in this recording moves at such a steady and nerve wracking pace that it's over almost as soon as it begins leaving me a little breathless and very tempted to listen to it again without advancing to the second act. I always thought Leonie Rysanek and James King (Bhm's cycle from the 1960s) could not be topped but Astrid Varnay and Ramon Vinay are in the same league. Josef Greindl's Hunding is deeply menacing and adds more dimension to this three character act that sets into motion the further decline of the gods. At the core of this love story is something important not to forget. This incestuous union becomes the straw that breaks the camel's back for Fricka, here sung by Milinkovic with appropriate steely conviction. This argument between a wife who has had it with her husband's endless infidelities and perversions audibly emasculates Hotter's Wotan. Hotter's voice expressed the fact that he's lost the argument and although he wishes for a different outcome, his plan to regain the ring will only cause more grief for all the gods. Hotter here is a perfect example of his ability to delineate a character's complexities. I sometimes moan a bit when Wotan's narrative begins but Hotter's retelling of the story which becomes a confession to his favorite daughter, his only real confident in his world, of his less than godlike behavior, filled with self-disgust at having mortal feelings, becomes an amazing scene in this performance.
If I had to choose one recording of this opera to remain in my collection, this would be the one. There are few recordings of any opera, that has so much attention to the details of the words and music, without appearing studied or mannered, but completely spontaneous.
One reservation, as usual with Testament's plastic cases, handle with care. They easily fall apart upon opening. They do reassemble but be careful. It is a bit of a pain in the "A" considering the price of these sets.