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Wagner: Die Walküre
Richard [Classical] Wagner, Joseph Keilberth, Bayreuth Festival Orchestra
Wagner: Die Walküre
Genre: Classical
  •  Track Listings (12) - Disc #1
  •  Track Listings (12) - Disc #2
  •  Track Listings (5) - Disc #3
  •  Track Listings (14) - Disc #4

"Best" is an overused word, and particularly difficult to apply to performances of operas as huge and multifaceted as Wagner's. There are now dozens of Walküres available on CD, and most have much to recommend them. This o...  more »


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All Artists: Richard [Classical] Wagner, Joseph Keilberth, Bayreuth Festival Orchestra, Astrid Varnay, Elisabeth Schartel, Georgine von Milinkovic, Gerda Lammers, Gré Brouwenstijn, Hans Hotter, Herta Wilfert, Hilde Scheppan, Jean Watson, Josef Greindl, Maria Graf, Maria von Ilosvay, Ramón Vinay
Title: Wagner: Die Walküre
Members Wishing: 0
Total Copies: 0
Label: Testament UK
Original Release Date: 1/1/2006
Re-Release Date: 6/13/2006
Album Type: Import
Genre: Classical
Style: Opera & Classical Vocal
Number of Discs: 4
SwapaCD Credits: 4
UPC: 749677139124

"Best" is an overused word, and particularly difficult to apply to performances of operas as huge and multifaceted as Wagner's. There are now dozens of Walküres available on CD, and most have much to recommend them. This one, part of a live Bayreuth Ring recorded in real stereo by the Decca recording crew in 1955 but never before released, is just about ideal: all of the singers, absolute golden-age-of-Wagner-singing performers, are in their prime. Ramon Vinay's baritonal Siegmend is both powerful and sympathetic; Gré Brouwenstijn's Sieglinde is wonderfully womanly, though occasionally troubled by a prominent vibrato; Josef Greindl's Hunding is a character to fear. Hans Hotter's Wotan is flawless---his sadness and tenderness are as vividly expressed as his rage and, thanks to the always- alert and dramatically intelligent leadership of Joseph Keilberth, his confrontation with the imperious Fricka of Georgine von Milinkovic has the ring of absolute honesty. Astrid Varnay's Brünnhilde is here caught at its best--utterly secure at all registers, girlish and impetuous but loving, a true powerhouse. The Valkyries are a noisy but accurate bunch. The Bayreuth Orchestra plays as if possessed---the trilling flutes in the "Ride," wonderfully captured by the engineers, add to the thrill. The "best"? Well, absolutely remarkable. --Robert Levine

CD Reviews

Superb Keilberth Walküre
J. M. Buck | Columbus, OH United States | 06/24/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"When I first began to become interested in Richard Wagner's music (about 35 years ago), I heard that there was a "golden age" of Wagner singing in the earlier 1950's. In those days, I had to accept this on faith, as few recorded performances were available (the LP era was just beginning 55 years ago and recording complete Wagner works was not the first priority). Those that were available, such as Wilhelm Furtwängler's 1950 La Scala Ring (with Flagstad) and his 1953 Ring from Italian Radio, were in dreadful recorded sound. In those days (early seventies) it seemed much better to stick with the Solti studio Ring or perhaps Karajan's (although the latter was receiving bad press in many cases).

It's fortunate for all lovers of Wagner's music that we're currently living in another golden era - this time of remastered CD recordings. Now we can enjoy the great interpreters of the fifties - in decent monaural sound - in Ring cycles conducted by Furtwängler, Clemens Krauss, Hans Knappertsbusch and others. But this year the selection has gotten even better - Testament is releasing a 1955 Bayreuth Ring cycle in STEREO. Decca engineers traveled to Bayreuth in 1955 (and 1956) to record Ring cycles conducted by Joseph Keilberth - but these recordings were never released until now. John Culshaw, the famed Decca producer responsible for the Solti Ring, reportedly didn't like "live" recordings and decided to withhold the Keilberth performances in preference for the Solti cycle yet to come. Testament, to their eternal credit, is now releasing these Keilberth performances, and they are superb. An extraordinary Siegfried was the first release, and now we have Die Walküre.

Compared with the other Rings of the period now on CD, the Decca/Testament sound is wonderfully rich and immediate, while the quality of the performances is frequently exceptional. Recent history has not been particularly kind to Joseph Keilberth, but these performances must certainly change all that. If your Wagner conductor of choice is Kna, you may perhaps not find Keilberth to be "indulgent" enough with the score - otherwise, you should agree that his interpretations are masterful.

The conductor is joined by the truly peerless Wotan of Hans Hotter, who at the age of 46 was at the peak of his form. This is the Walküre Wotan we've always dreamed about for the Solti recording, but which Hotter unfortunately recorded when he was past his prime. Just listen to Hotter in the closing scenes of this Keilberth performance and see if you have ever heard a better performance of this role.

I must confess that I was not familiar with Astrid Varnay's career until the 1980's and then it was with her then-current character mezzo roles. When I began to acquire recorded performances from her prime (especially of Brünnhilde and Isolde), I began to understand what a major artist she was. Even so, I had never heard her sound so marvelous as she does in the present recording. She had a mannerism - that got worse with the passing of time - of "sliding" into pitches, but that is largely absent here - it's a truly stupendous performance, on a par with Leider, Flagstad, Nilsson - you name 'er.

Like the other principals, Ramón Vinay is a known quantity from other recorded performances. As Siegmund, he manages to be both heroic and tragic. I have often thought that Gré Brouwenstijn must have been a more compelling artist "in person" than on recordings. While there is much to admire in characterization and musicianship, I find her voice to be excessively tremulous, and so she is here as Sieglinde. Josef Greindl's Hunding and Georgine von Milinkovic's Fricka offer strong support - and those valkyries are a particularly sturdy bunch of lasses.

There are those who are already calling this the "definitive" Ring recording - and they just may be right."
A Walküre for the Ages
Philip Chase | Florida, USA | 06/21/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"The eagerly awaited stereo edition of Die Walküre as performed at Bayreuth in 1955 is finally available in the superlative stereo sound which was recorded by Decca engineers and planned for release before John Culshaw nixed the idea in favor of a studio Ring. For many years Decca's studio Ring has been the preferred cycle by most Wagnerites. Now with the gradual appearance of the Keilberth "live" 1955 cycle thanks to the Testament label (as of now we have the two middle operas, the first and fourth to appear later this year), we can emphatically state that Decca officials denied the record buying public access to a stunning cycle for 51 years. All artists in this Walk¨re are in their absolute prime. Brouwenstijn and Vinay are the passionate lovers, Greindl a menacing Hunding, Hotter probably the very best Wotan ever recorded, Varnay an incredibly involved Brünnehilde (why oh why did major record companies virtually ignore this magnificent artist?), and Von Milinkovic a superb Fricka. The Walküre sisters are very fine. And Keilberth's conducting moves with every nuance of the score, bringing Wagner's music drama to life. Because this was recorded "live" before an audience all the performers are very involved with the action. This Walküre will draw you into the story and move you emotionally more than any other audio recording. As stated, the sound is excellent, so fine you'd never realize had you not been told that the original tapes are over half a century old. Expensive the set is, but if you want to hear a Walküre that surely fulfills every one of Wagner's hopes for a performance, this must be the first choice of all Ring fans. Listen to it and marvel at the artistry and commitment of the performers. You will not be disappointed!"
Klingsor Tristan | Suffolk | 09/08/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Am I alone in finding these releases of the "First Stereo Ring" a bit overhyped? Certainly this Walkure, like the Siegfried before it, shows how consistently good Bayreuth performances were in the 50's. Krauss a couple of years before and Knasppertsbusch the year after worked with essentially the same cast. And it is invidious to start trying to make definitive comparisons between the singers' performances over those years. There are pluses and minuses across all three for the principals - Hotter, Varnay, Vinay, Windgassen, etc. Certainly Hotter was in better voice in all these recordings than he was for Solti some ten years later. But, to take just the Act 2 narration in Walkure as a keystone of a Wotan performance, I'd be hard-pushed to make an out-and-out decision about which was 'best', even if I wanted to. And much the same holds true of the other singers.

So, it's the conducting, then. Well, Keilberth certainly gives a well-balanced, exciting performance - a little lighter, faster and less bombastic than some. But so is Krauss - and he manages to land the big punches in Acts 1 and 3 more effectively. Kna was notoriously a patchy conductor: concentration could lapse sometimes for pages at a time. But his broader, grander approach certainly demands consideration - perhaps his 1951 Gotterdammerung (also on Testament) shows off his Ring at its best. A few years later at the Festpielhaus, Kempe's more intimate, refined conducting and Bohm's highly-charged theatrical approach also come into the picture.

So it's the sound quality, then. Well yes, it is better sound than either the Krauss or the Knappertsbusch. And it is in stereo, though not spectacularly so. But the Bohm from the following decade gives a much richer and truer idea of the real Bayreuth magic. And, undoubtedly, Culshaw's Decca recording (started just a couple of years after this recording) knocks them all into a cocked hat for sheer sound quality - whatever your views of the performance. (And so, incidentally, does the Vienna Philharmonic compared to the consistently good but not great Festspielhaus orchestra.)

Certainly this is a Walkure (and progressively a Ring) that deserves its place in the catalogue after half a century gathering dust. But to say it sweeps all before it is overstating the case.