"After coming to know, love and perhaps becoming obsessed with the Ring through one of the modern stereo versions (e.g., Solti), you may want to hear another version. In my view, this classic version is the single best second Ring to get. It represents the fruit of a tremendous pre-War undertaking featuring many of the finest Wagnerian singers and musicians of the era giving performances that are astounding. Seventy-plus years later, the voice of Lauritz Melchior (for example) does not cease to amaze.The sound is just fine for its era. Pearl has done an excellent job remastering and joining the sides (remember, these were 78s). I can't recommend this set highly enough."
The greatest Wagner singing - bar none
Klingsor Tristan | Suffolk | 08/15/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is the Ring that John Culshaw had so much fun with in his book, Ring Resounding, about the making of the Solti Ring. And he had a point. Yes, there is barely a third of the tetralogy recorded here (more than `bleeding chunks' but far less than the whole). Yes, we dart between London and Berlin and occasionally Vienna seemingly at will. Yes conductors (who didn't seem to be thought of as very important in those days) can change within scenes. So, on occasion, can singers - Act 2 of Walkure, for instance, has 2 Wotans, 2 Brunnhildes, 2 Sieglindes and Wotan No.2 doubles as Hunding! BUT...
But here is some of the most glorious singing you will hear on any Ring recording. Ever.
These days it seems to be the 50's that are lauded as the Golden Age of Wagner Singing - Hotter, Varnay, Nilsson, Flagstad (still), Windgassen, Vickers et al. But Hotter, magisterial and charismatic god that he could be, was prone to being hooty and woolly and even a bit wobbly, especially on an asthmatic day. Nilsson's awe-inspiring steely brilliance could leave her sounding a little cold and impersonal. At the other extreme, Flagstad's richer tones could make her sound a little maternal for my taste (Brunnhilde may be Siegfried's aunt, but she's not his mother!). Varnay was blisteringly committed in everything she did, but the voice as a voice? No cigar. Windgassen's Siegfried lacked the last ounce or two of vocal heft and he was apt to husband his resources a bit too much, especially in his eponymous opera. And so on.
But go back a generation further and wow! It's in a different class.
Let's start with Friedrich Schorr since he's the first of these greats to appear on these discs. In Wotan's `Abendlich strahlt' from Rheingold he is simply magnificent. This is a baritone bass-baritone as opposed to Hotter's bass bass-baritone (think Norman Bailey vs. John Tomlinson for modern local equivalents - on second thoughts, don't: it's not fair on two excellent Wotans!). Schorr's voice in 1927 was in prime nick (it got a bit strained at the top a decade or so later); focused, controlled, ample and with what I can only describe as a beat to it rather than any suggestion of wobble that gave it colour and character. Then there is the intelligence he brought to the character and the text. This is fully illustrated by taking practically any part of his role from Walkure - from the father issuing orders to his daughter through the crushed husband, the blind frustration of `heilige Schmach', the towering anger of Act 3 right through to what must be the definitive performance of the Farewell - certainly the one I always hear in my mind's ear. The Wanderer in Siegfried is no less wonderfully sung and the character has grown in maturity and resignation as well as gaining a sense of humour in his scenes with Mime and Alberich.
Frida Leider's Brunnhilde strikes a perfect balance between the steeliness of a Nilsson and the mumsiness of a Flagstad. John Steane described her voice as "existing at that rarely achieved point where the heroic has not become inhuman and where the human does not undermine tragic dignity". Precisely. This is amply demonstrated in bar after bar of Walkure from the teenage whoops of her war cry through the inwardness and growing confidence of her plea to her father to the crowning heroic glory of her grand idea for a fire-girt rock and a hero to brave it, singing with reckless abandon and thrilling security at the same time. Sadly she is not with us for Siegfried or Gotterdammerung, though we get her earlier set of the last (butchered) scene of Siegfried with Rudolf Laubenthal as a consolation. I wish there had been room for her nonpareil of an Immolation, even though it wasn't part of the original set.
The last of this triumvirate of unmatchable Wagner singers was, of course, Lauritz Melchior as Siegfried. His voice is simply a phenomenon - tireless, with a distinctive ring throughout its range, towering when loud (forging the sword), capable of real beauty and poetry when soft (the Forest Murmurs) and not as prone to rhythmical sloppiness as he's often made out to be. We have not heard his like before or since and probably never will.
The rest of the cast are no slouches either. Walter Widdop as Siegmund can hold his head high in this esteemed company; Gota Ljunberg is a wonderful Sieglinde, young, sexy, alive to the rising passion of Act 1, the hysteria of Act 2 and the glorious outburst of maternalism in Act 3 alike. I have to say, I've never quite got it with most people's favourite Sieglinde, Lotte Lehmann (the Fidelio Leonora, yes, that's a different matter), so for me Ljungberg is probably the best of them all. Florence Austral is the Brunnhilde of Gotterdammerung - at her best in a Dawn Duet with Widdop as Siegfried, egged on by urgent conducting from Albert Coates (far and away the most exciting conductor on these discs). Her Immolation is excellent, if not enough to erase memories of Leider. Ivar Andresen is the blackest of Hagens (enough to make Frick sound cuddly!), Emmi Leisner an implacable Fricka and Maartje Offers a Waltraute who really draws you in to her narrative.
It was122 sides on its original issue and in sound that is really staggeringly good (as it comes up on these Pearl discs produced by the ever reliable Mark Obert-Thorn), considering it was recorded just a few years after the introduction of electric recording.
If you love Wagner singing of the absolutely highest standards and already have your favourite modern-sound version sorted, don't hesitate: treat yourself to the many, many unmatched performances on these discs, all for less than the price of a pretty dodgy seat at the opera house. "
An abolute must
Erik Aleksander Moe | Oslo, Norway | 03/08/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This magnificent compilation of the greatest Wagner singers and conductors of the 20s and early 30s is an absolute MUST for everyone who is remotely interrested in how Wagner was done in the past. The greatest attractions are the magnificent interpretations of Friedrich Schorr, Frida Leider and the young Lauritz Melchior. Schorr sings Wotan in the excerpts from Die Walkure and Leider sings Brunnhilde. Melchior sings the young Siegfried. There is so much to treasure in this set. The English tenor Walter Widdop sings Siegmund and Swedish soprano Gota Ljungberg sings Sieglinde. The Walkure and Siegfried excerpts are quite consistant in the casting. Mime is sung by different tenors in Siegfried and although Wanderer is sung by Schorr in acts 1 and 2, the role is sung by two others Emil Schippers and Rudolf Bockelmann in act 3. None of them are as noble or as magnifient sounding as Schorr. Florence Easton sings Brunnhilde with Melchior in the duet at the end of the opera. Gotterdammerung, though, is much less consistantly cast, the only consistant casting being Florence Austral as Brunnhilde. The excerpts are much more spread and more brief than on Siegfried, which had almost all of Siegfried's scenes intact. Siegfried is sung by Walter Widdop in the prologue and acts 1 and 2 and Horst Laubenthal in act 3. These two are not as great as Melchior (who is?), but is still quite excellent. Hagen is done by Arthur Fear, Ivar Andresen, Emanuel List. Andresen sings Hagen's watch (Hier sitz ich zur Wacht) and the calling of the Vassals (Hoiho! Hoihohoho!). He is the most chilling and exciting Hagen I have ever heard. His rendition, especially the calling of the vassals, is really dominating and every time I hear it gives me shivers. No other Hagen is quite as compelling is evil sounding without overdoing it. He is, for me, the main attraction of the Gotterdammerung part of the set. The set also includes small excerpts of Rheingold with Schorr's rendition of the entry of the Gods to Vallhalla as the main attraction. And in addition to this there is an extra recording of parts of the Siegfried with Laubenthal and Leider. This scene is a little differently done than with Melchior and Easton, but both are great. I have not said anything about the magnificent conductors here. Main parts of act 1 of Walkure is done by the great Albert Coates and somewhat less successfully by Lawrence Collingwood. Coates and Leo Blech dominates the rest of the Ring excerpts with scenes done by John Barbirolli, Robert Heger and Carl Alwin. But the most exciting conducting of all is done by the magnificent Karl Muck in Siegfried's Rhine Journey and Funeral March. The Rhine Journey is done with so much youngfullness and describes the young hero's journey magnificently. The Funeral March is done very solemnly and very much as a tribute to the great fallen hero.
So I would highly recommend this to all who is remotely interested in historical recordings or would want to know how Wagner was done is the past. The sound is really exceptional for its time and it is as good as any release from Pearl who is highly regarded as one of the best labels who releases historical recordings."
A superb historic supplement to a modern, stereo "Ring"
Ralph Moore | Bishop's Stortford, UK | 03/26/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Previous reviewers have done an excellent job adumbrating the many virtues of this wonderful issue; I would simply like to modify their rapture a little by putting these discs in perspective.
You could not recommend them as an introduction to the "Ring"; you really need to have already gained some love for, and familiarity with, this stupendous music before embarking on them. You also need to have some tolerance for the venerable sound - though I have to say that Mark Obert-Thorn has done such a wonderful clean-up job that one quickly forgets just how long ago these performances were recorded: only briefly after the introduction of electric recording eighty - yes; eighty - years ago. One quickly becomes oblivious to the minor sonic limitations when listening to singers of this calibre, in any case.
Highlights of these discs are definitely anything involving Melchior or Leider and for great conducting you should start by sampling the excerpts from "Goetterdaemmerung" by Karl Muck and the Berlin State Opera Orchestra on the first disc. Nonetheless, I thought Blech's account of the "Forest Murmurs" poetic and affecting, and while Rudolf Laubenthal is rather metallic compared with Melchior, he sings with fervour and strength. None of the singers here is surpassed by anyone singing today and many are clearly superior. Ivar Andresen's Hagen is the epitome of saturnine evil; Friedrich Schorr sings with magisterial authority as Wotan; both Austral and Easton cover themselves in glory as Bruennhilde even if they are not quite Leider's equal, and Widdop displays a heroic tenor which would astound a modern audience were he performing today.
Melchior is hors concours as an artist; he sings with that famous combination of tenderness, virile thrust, clarion top notes, boyish charm, tireless endurance and beauty of tone which is enough to make any aspiring Wagnerian heldentenor despair; he has it all and very little of the supposed "rhythmic sloppiness" is in evidence. Leider is almost his equal; the only pity is that she does not feature more often in these excerpts - particularly the Immolation scene.
The original issue price was a little steep; you can now obtain these discs more affordably via Amazon Marketplace - and no Wagner aficionado should be without them."
Coates, Austral, Widdop, Melchior, Schorr, Easton
madamemusico | Cincinnati, Ohio USA | 06/15/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"These "bleeding chunks" of Wagner's "Ring," recorded in London and Berlin between 1926 and 1932, are generally exciting and well-sung performances, but a lot of the British and German singers used were really just repiteurs of their time. The really golden voices belong to Florence Austral, young Melchior, Friedrich Schorr and Florence Easton, though Walter Widdop was much better Heldentenor than one usually finds today and certainly deserves honorable mention.
The most frustrating thing about this set, aside from its episodic nature, was the schizophrenic use of five different conductors, each of whom had an entirely different way of shaping and pacing the work. Of the two used most frequently, Albert Coates and Leo Blech, Coates was decidedly the greater conductor. Every single note of every single phrase he conducts on these records has life, drive, clarity of texture, proper weighty tone and an almost palpable excitement. Indeed, in my view Coates is the most underrated conductor who recorded in history, and deserves to be better known for ALL of his work.
The price is a little steep, but if you get the set, do yourself a favor, JUST listen to the Coates-conducted excerpts first, then go back and listen to the whole thing. You'll quickly see what I mean. My biggest frustration was that Coates was not chosen to conduct the final scene from "Siegfried" with Melchior and the greatly-underappreciated Florence Easton, who though she was not as good as Austral was certainly an outstanding singer. Mark Obert-Thorn has done a good job of transferring these old records. The original 78s had a LOT of hiss and "sandpaper" sound in them, since they were issued at a time when Victor and HMV were putting EMERY powder in the grooves to minimize needle wear. (Emery powder is the same kind of thing you file your nails with, so you can imagine how abrasive the sound is even on mint-condition discs!) In doing so, he has of necessity scraped a little of the overtones off as well, leaving a slightly "grainy" sound in soft wind and vocal passages, but that is a small price to pay for eliminating what used to be called "bacon frying" on the old records.