A Monumental Achievement. Crespin and Stewart Shine
Dr Opera2 | Southfield, Mi USA | 06/12/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This DGG Walkure with Karajan was released originally when London or Decca released its Walkure with Solti rival at the same time. So comparisons flew fast and furiously. Solti has James King as Siegmund, Crespin as Sieglinde, one of her signature parts, Nilsson as Brunnhilde but the very aging Hans Hotter as Wotan. The Wotan (Hotter) was a real problem and rendered the performance personably unlistenable until its redubbing and reissue on CD decades later. Now it is great. The presence of Nilsson and Crespin and Ludwig, and a mellowing of Hotters Timbre all in their primes explain this.
At the same time, Karajan and DGG issued its answer. And the opera world went into orbit. This recording was glorious in every way and revelatory in many ways. Janowitz as Sieglinde was terribly miscast, carried that miscasting to the Met as a debut role, and never returned to that house afterwards. Karajan had the young Thomas Stewart as Wotan, Jon Vickers as Siegmund, Josephine Veasey as Frika, and Regine Crespin as Brunhilde. And therein lies the tale.
Karajan had wanted Nilsson for Brunhilde and she was contracted to Decca and could not record it for DGG. She was chomping at the bit to sing Sieglinde in the recording and karajan's refusal to engage her for the part lead her to withdraw form the Met's Ring, since Manager Rudoph Bing refused to intervene with Karajan on Miss Nilsson's behalf. Nilsson blinked and the Met's ring proceeded albeit with hysterical tantrums and news conferences and gossip coming out of the Met's Press office and the New York Times. But to the recording.
The Act starts with Jon Vickers in what was his greatest role. He is stupendous and heroic and brooding. Janowitz who was a Mozart Lyric Soprano was very sincere but produced an unconventional sound, wanting in volume and intensity, but but well supported by the orchestra and the Engineers. Veasey as Frick was very interesting, though I cannot say she ever achieves greatness in this part, plus her competitor on Decca was Ludwig. Stewart was quite moving as Wotan, producing quite beautiful tones. He is not tired by the effort nor are we. Then there was Crespin as Brunhilde and therein hangs the tale. Crespin reaches a greatness in that part that few singers in anything can match-maybe Leontyne Price in Carmen, Norman as Cassandra, Tebaldi as Mimi. The voice is large enough for the part. She is never overwhelmed by the orchestra. And she does not tire by the end, something that cannot be said of her as Sieglinde. The ho jo toho is shockingly brilliant--a surprise to all because we all thought that that aria would bring her to grief. She was not a High voiced soprano and had a tendency to flatten on sustained high notes. She does not and it was later revealed that she was tricked into thinking that she would be recording a "take" and not the actual session. Apparently she relaxed and the high notes soared to the high Heavens. In those parts of introspection and quiet thought, Crespin eclipsed all of her competitors and made a convincing case for her interpretation. Following her performance with the libretto moves the listener inside them mind of the goddess and you become intimately involved with her as she moves inexorably to the final tragedy. Hers is not the only interpretation of that part and you may still prefer Nilsson, Flagstad, Leider and Traubel all in the heroic mode. But once you hear Crespin's Brunnhilde, you will never be able to let the experience go.
Karajan was up to the task. Everybody comes in on time, which did not always happen in live performance where you cannot do retakes. He accompanies the singers as if this were a French piece providing a heavy cushion of sound for the singers, You can hear and understand every word and yet in the solo orchestral parts he can produce sound and intensity that other conductors only dream about. He conducts a Walkure of one's dreams. Remember, Nilsson and Varnay did not think he was that good a conductor. Varnay refused to sing in Bayreuth with him and Nilsson crusaded against him as an incompetent and never relaxed when she worked with him. So there was no Nilsson-Vickers Karajan Tristan as a result. The Tristan with Bohm--a sincere non entity in my opinion. Vickers would never perform with Solti after their Aida recording with Price together.
So where do we stand on this Walkure? It is as good as any Walkure can be. Janowitz can be replaced with Crespin/Karajan or Rysanek/Karajan first acts if you like. I always do. And While Nilsson is irreplaceble as Brunhilde, Crespin cannot be ignored. Try it. You'll see. Every Wagner collector will have to have this Walkure in your collection for Crespin and Stewart's Wotan, Vickers and the Magnicent Berlin PHilarmonic under Karajan."