"This is a performance to enchant you and excite you for years to come. There are other good stereo recordings of this much loved opera. Among them are the Solti, Karajan, Leinsdorf. Even with this competition, this one conducted by Karl Bohm is still very clearly a favorite with both critics and opera lovers. There are some that say it is going too fast or that the orchestra is not as good as either the Vienna or the Berlin Philharmonic. The latter may be true, but what Bohm brings to the performance is something that the other conductors clearly don't. He brings drama, reality, wonder. As for the performance being too fast. When listening to it (and I have over 20 different recordings of the opera) I don't think that is it too fast. Many of the older performances are done quite a bit faster, most notably Leinsdorf's 1940 and Fritz Stiedry's 1949 Met performances. I found those too fast many times. Bohm, I think, is not too fast at any point in the opera. Now for the singers. Birgit Nilsson, who sang on the Solti performance, is dramatically and musically better here. Throughout the 2nd and 3rd acts she is dominating. When confronting Wotan in the 3rd act, she is noble and pleading comming to stupendous end when begging her father to surround her and the mountain with fire. Theo Adam's Wotan is really very good. Solti has Hans Hotter which is way past his prime and it gets to be a little painful to listen to if you heard him in the 50s. Adam is his successor, and although I don't think that Adam ever brought the same insight and characterization. Nonetheless is Adam very good.
We then come to the two siblings. James King, who also sings for Solti, is much more dramatically correct as Siegmund. On the Solti recording he was a quite boring to listen to sometimes. It may be that the excitement of a live performance improved on the acting. He is secure, tender, powerful throughout the taxing 1st act and in his encounter with Brunnhilde. I must admit that I didn't like Leonie Rysanek's Sieglinde first time I heard her, but I must say now that it is one of the definitive interpretations in modern times. It is glorious from start to finish.
Annelies Burmeister is also very good as Fricka. Gerd Nienstedt's Hunding is good, but I prefer Gottlob Frick who sang for Solti.
The sound quality is excellent. I wish only that more orchetral details would come through. The set contains an interesting essay and a complete libretto with translation to English. Now that it has been released in mid-price and a newly remarstered sound, it is more recommended than ever"
BDSinC | Calgary, Alberta, Canada | 12/19/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I have to admit that I am first and foremost a super fan of the Solti recording that includes all the "sound affects" that Wagner wrote into his score (which won't be evident in any of this series). However, I have to say, I was super struck with this recording. Die Walkure is the most popular opera of the Ring operas, and one will find it often performed by itself with no hope of seeing the rest of the Ring Cycle at all. That is understandable (though my personal favorite is Gotterdammerung). I find the Siegmund/Brunhilde scene DRAGS even in performance for like most of Wagner, there is usually nothing happening at all while hours of "talking about everything" goes on. Some claim this version is conducted too fast, and I have to say, that is something I definitely don't agree with at all. It moves with a good pace, and those very dull moments during the Brunhilde/Siegmund scene actually seem to fall aside. For once I wasn't restless during it hoping it would pass soon. I find the same feeling comes over me when Brunhilde and Wotan are together in their scene in Act 2. We have just seen the confrontation between Wotan and Fricka, which has some real bite to it (not to mention the act begins with the exciting war cry), then we have Wotan explain everything to Brunhilde we have just watched the night before in Das Rhinegold. Perhaps his explanation is necessary for her (but being his favorite daughter, one would think she was well versed in the history of things and Wotan's reasonings about everything long ago) but it is a miscalculation Wagner does repeatedly in this cycle (the entire Norns scene in Gotterdammerung does the exact same thing all over again, as will the scene with Waltraute and Brunhilde later in the opera, though here some extra information is added; by now the audience is more than familiar with the story). Those moments can often really drag out, even in performance, to the point one hopes they end soon and we get on with things. Solti did resolve a lot of that, but even his great recordings can become dull in those rather dull moments. Personally, I think the tempo works in the favor of the audience and the affectiveness of both these mentioned scenes. The natural tendency for them to drag is removed a great deal, but none of the emotional impact or intensity is destroyed.
I find that the singers are very good, and since we hear many of them in Solti's ring we are able to compare them. King is far superior in this recording, and he brings far more feeling to his role of Siegmund. Nelsson is wonderful, but I think in this recording her voice has more "presence" and more clarity. One actually almost thinks they hear the trill in her war cry that begins act 2, but I say almost, for it is an illusion caused because of the trilling of the orchestra. I find Adam very good as Wotan, and he is completely convincing in the final scene with Brunhilde. What I miss with him, and this is once again the added touches Wagner asks for in the score, and that is to hear his spear crashing on the rocks as he calls forth Loge, which doesn't happen (just as in Siegfried, in this Ring series we never hear the sword break the anvil, which does add tremendously to the closing of that act in that opera, and in that case, the conductor isn't even careful enough to make sure all the cymbol crashing is sharp enough to give such an affect as one hears in some recordings; the affect is completely lost).
I have to admit, it has always taken me a long time to warm up to Leonie Rysanek as a singer. As Sieglinde, I much prefer Jessye Norman, but we are given this singer (Rysanek) in this recording as she sings in the Solti recording. I have come to conclude she is a wonderful Sieglinde, and does justice to the role. Yes, her high notes are strong and very focused, and she is never under "pressure" when producing them. The thing with Sieglinde is she is not that highly written. The part lies mostly within the staff and during some of the most important moments at the lower part of it, or below it. That is where I find the weakness in her performance, for she just isn't "there" in those sections. The voice even seems "drowning" in its fight over the orchestra. Yet, once the vocal line takes her to the C above middle C her voice opens up and we are hearing a voice that carries super well. Overall, though, her performance is exceptional, and I have grown to love it.
What I find odd about these recordings is they were recorded LIVE at the Bayreuth Festival, yet at no time do we hear even the slightest indication of the audience, not even a cough! (how ever did they manage to get such quiet people into the theatre, for it seems no matter where you go, someone HAS TO COUGH). Occasionally one gets a sense something is happening on stage, but no real stage noises like on some recordings. And the most obviously glaring things missing is the appause at the end of each act, or at least at the end of the opera if it was performed with no breaks. That may have been more a reflection of the times where good stereo live performances were made to appear like studio releases (all because buyers though all life performances were, well, noisy and very flawed), however, for me, when things are live, I want to hear the audience reaction. I know that during the actual acts there will NEVER be any clapping or reaction, especiallly at the "sacred Wagner temple", but when things end, people do clap there, and one gets the sense of whether the performance was meaningful to those who heard it (especially when there is a moment of silence before the uproar beings; the feeling is electric). Perhaps the engineers requested no clapping at all, for at least two minutes or something like that. Whatever, that removes the one thing that would prove this is a live recording, the audience reaction to it. This really has no bearing on the quality of this recording, which is excellent, but it would add something to it.
This is a super recording and well worth the price. It is hard to find a "bad" ring recording, but there are some super incrediblly good ones out there that tower over all others, and I would put this in that group."
At its best, the most theatrical Walkure on records
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 09/18/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"No opera house today could duplicate the cast Karl Bohm led in the Sixties at Byreuth, and we are fortunate to have a record of Nilsson live as Brunnhilde. Thanks to the clear, close-up miking of the singers, the mood is intensely dramatic. When it was first issued on LP, I rejected Bohm's often curt, brash conducting, which misses so much of Wagner's eloquence. Today, howeer, I must bow to the overall impact of the performance.
Most of the cast overlap either the Solti or Karajan studio cycles that were recorded during that era, but they add a bit more on stage (and a bit less in terms of vocal endurance and accuracy). With so much overlap, is this Walkure better than Solti's? James King is more relaxed and natural as Siegmund--he comes to life on stage in a way he never did in the stdio. Leonie Rysanek is a huge plus as Sieglinde, much more idiomatic and thrilling than Crespin for Solti.
The glorious Birgit Nilsson is a known quantity as Brunnhilde, but unfortunately so is Theo Adam, Bohm's Wotan in the whole cycle. A sturdy, unimaginative veteran, Adam offers nothing in the way of vocal beauty. He is up against the aged, woolly-sounding Hans Hotter for Solti, however, so it's a relief to hear a strong, secure voice in the part. The Hunding, Fricka, and Waltraute are considerably below their counterparts under Solti, but Walkure doesn't rise and fall on them.
Finally, the Vienna Phil. plays gloriously for Solti, while the Bayreth orchestra, good as it is, rarely rises to thrilling heights. It may be realistic to keep them in a recessed perspective, but for home listening, the effect lacks impact. All these deficits made a bigger difference forty years ago than they do today. in retrospect, this is a dramatic Walkure whose like we aren't going to see again for a long time."
Animated, Exciting, and Alive. A Definitive Walküre
The Cultural Observer | 01/17/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Karl Böhm is one of the most esteemed musicians of the Austro-German symphonic and operatic repertoire, displaying the finest of his strengths in the works of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Berg, Strauss and Wagner. During his younger days in Graz, Böhm originally studied to be a lawyer (and he did in fact finish and pass the bar exam). Like Carlos Kleiber (a student of chemistry), his true passions lay in music, however, and upon finishing his exams immediately went to conduct Wagner's Der Fliegende Hollander in the opera house. To this day, his Wagner, especially his Tristan and the legendary Bayreuth Ring from 1966, is propelled by critics and listeners to the top of the discography as the prime recordings of these two landmark music dramas. Those who chanced to hear his other live recordings of Wagner's operas such as a wonderful Vienna Lohengrin with Watson, Thomas, Ludwig, and Berry; a delightful Meistersinger from both the Met (1959) and Bayreuth (1968); and a 1968 Rome Tannhäuser are familiar with the energy and lyricism that he injects into his conducting. His Der Fliegende Hollander recording is without peer, besting even the Klemperer recording that has been so widely advertised as the greatest exponent of the opera on disc. Outside of Parsifal, Böhm has constantly shown in his rich discography on disc that he is one of the finest conductors of Wagner since Clemens Krauss. The detail that he fuses to each of the pieces is girded by a sure sense of musicality and a Mozartean clarity. His tempi may be on the fast side, but this is hardly a chink in a musical vision that ably encompasses each of the many worlds and atmospheres of Wagner's operas.
To speak of Böhm as a conductor, it is necessary to bring to the fore his magnificent Bayreuth Ring. Of the four operas he conducted, the best is this glorious Die Walküre, spearheaded by Birgit Nilsson's awesome Brünnhilde. Böhm's tempi set the drama straight from the thunderous ostinato chords of the storm prelude. There is little in this performance that drags, and Böhm for a man in his 60s bring fresh insight and an abundance of energy to an act that is best characterized by passion and intensity. The end of the first act is injected with pure rapture not only by the singers but by Böhm as well. His conducting profile is brilliantly propelled by an orchestra that responds to his lyricism and grace without compromising power and sharply defined rhythms.
The second act is a study on control, and especially during the more intimate scenes like Wotan's dialogue with Brünnhilde and the Todesverkundigung scene does Böhm bring out rich orchestral details from the many leitmotifs that draw the listener back to a recapitulation of the many events in the cycle. In fact, only in this recording does Wotan's monologue emerge so clearly in the Ring (neither Solti, Krauss, nor Keilberth brought so much detail and clarity to this scene, with only Barenboim equalling Böhm's fantastic achievement). The third act is started by a thrilling Ride of the Valkyries and again emphasized by a certain luminosity during the more intimate exchanges. Böhm closes the opera with a wonderfully conducted Abschied and a singing, dancing Feuerzauber.
The cast is outstanding, and thanks to Wieland Wagner's genius dramaturgy, the singers are able to develop portrayals of their characters that far exceed their studio achievements. James King is simply golden as Siegmund. No other heldentenor, not even Jon Vickers or Lauritz Melchior, comes close to the kind of tragedy that comes so naturally to King. His voice is lovely too, infused with more of that Italianita that escapes many a heldentenor. Leonie Rysanek is simply the most intense Sieglinde in recording history. She may not be accurate about intonation, but her voice easily soars over the orchestra and creates an extremely complex and demented foil for the character that is simply unforgettable from the first note to the last. Whereas Crespin was elegant and poised, Rysanek lives through Sieglinde's woes and plights and contrasts that with the pure rapture she expresses upon meeting Siegmund. Her "O Hehrstes Wunder" is enough of a reason to own this recording. Gerd Nienstedt is dark and billowing as Siegmund, theatrically and vocally apt, if not quite approaching Talvela or Salminen's grandiose proportions.
Theo Adam's bass-baritone is unusually clear for his Fach, but through Wieland's guidance he hones it to make a Wotan that while never approaching Hotter's divinity still creates a portrait of the god that is sympathetic, wise, and resigned to fate. When not under stress, his voice becomes especially gorgeous. He makes a blooper during his opening lines: "Brünnhilde stürme zum Streit instead of Kampf," but this is hardly noticeable. He is wonderful when he relates to his daughter the plight of the gods and the foreboding future that awaits them and is equally frightening later as he confronts the valkyrie. But he closes it all with a farewell that is filled with tears, if without the apotheosis that Hotter brings to the part.
Annelies Burmeister is a powerful, shrewish Fricka who understands the part well. She is not vocally rich as Ludwig, but is definitely in the same class as Waltraud Meier. Birgit Nilsson is everyone's favorite Valkyrie, and she brings her elemental voice to a recording that better tells listeners about the awesome dimensions of her instrument. She is also more committed to the drama in this recording compared to the Solti, but only slightly so. Her Todesverkundigung is wonderful, as are her pleas to Wotan. The rest of the cast such as the rowdy bunch of Valkyries represents the finest of the Bayreuth bunch. Theatrically, this recording couldn't be bettered. "