A glorious historical "Walkure" featuring the young Nilsson'
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 09/09/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Amid the raves for Joseph Keilberth's Ring cycle from 1955, here's the same Bayreuth cast in 1957, but with two great advantages. The Sieglinde is now the young Birgit Nilsson. She's quite magnificent, and although her characterization isn't vulnerable -- this Sieglinde could have flattened Brunnhilde in a throw-down -- it's not remotely steely, to use the cliche most commonly applied to Nilsson's astonishingly powerful, pure, gleaming voice. She makes a towering partner for Ramon Vinay's earthy, baritonal Siegmund. The two give a demonstration of great Wagner singing in Act I that's thrilling in the extreme. Greindl's imposing Hunding completes a trio only surpassed by Melchior, Lehmann, and List in the famous recording under Bruno Walter from the Thirties.
I spoke of two advantages -- the other is knappertsbusch's direction, which far exceeds Keilberth's in strength and structure. You may feel, as I did, that the ever-unexcitable Kna holds back the tempo too much at certain points, such as the climax of Act I when it takes the phenomenal breath control of Vinay and Nilsson to express their incestuous passion at such a broad pace. But they succeed, and even when you feel like kicking the conductor to speed up, Kna's authority speaks volumes here. The same is true of Hotter's Wotan and Varnay's Brunnhilde, who surpass their interpretations in 1955 -- the steadiness in Hotter's voice is especially welcome.
Which leaves only the sonics. Keilberth's stereo sound exceeds the mono given to Knappertsbusch, and the orchestra here is at times dim, the main sound being from the strings. But the miking of the singers is exceptionally good -- steady, clear, natural, and full. For that reason, this turns into a singers' Walkure far more than Keliberth's is. Since they are glorious singers, the trade-off is more than justified. Stage noise is minimal, as is audience noise; the orchestra's playing is goodish, as it was for Keilberth. In sum, this is the best historical Die Walkure I've ever heard.
P.S. - It's regrettable that Hotter didn't have enough voice left to do justice to Wotan's Farewell in the Solti Walkure from the mid-Sixties. I'd like to suggest that his magnificent performance of it here, indeed the whole of Act III, can be substituted as the account he would have wanted to give.
Cast: Astrid Varnay (Brünnhilde);Birgit Nilsson (Sieglinde); Georgine von Milinkovic (Fricka); Ramon Vinay (Siegmund); Hans Hotter (Wotan); Josef Greindl (Hunding); Paula Lenvhner (Gerhilde); Gerda Lammers (Ortlinde); Elisabeth Schärtel (Waltraute); Maria von Ilosvay (Schwertleite): Hilde Scheppan (Helmwige); Helena Bader (Siegrune); Georgine von Milinkovic (Grimgerde) & Hetty Plümacher (Rossweise)"