A welcome return
Mike Leone | Houston, TX, United States | 05/04/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"It's hard to imagine, with the plethora of complete recorded Rings on the market nowadays, that there was a long time when the complete operas were not represented on disc. During the 78-rpm era, there were separate volumes dedicated to each of the three acts of Die Walkure, and then Furtwangler recorded Walkure complete on LP in 1954. This Gotterdammerung, derived from a broadcast on Norwegian Radio, was the second of the four Ring operas to appear on LP, probably in 1956, followed by Das Rheingold in 1959 and Siegfried in 1963. While critics gave a begrudging "better-than-nothing" acceptance to this recording, it was generally not well received.
I was familiar with the story of the Ring, having read the wonderful children's books that the Metropolitan Opera put out during the 1930s telling the stories of the operas, long before I heard any of the music. So at the age of 15 or so I was thrilled to encounter this recording on LP at the downtown library. I checked it out and followed the music in a piano-vocal score. It was my first time to actually hear any of the Ring, other than a couple of the orchestral excerpts, and I loved it. In 1968 I finally found a new copy of this long-out-of-print recording that I bought as soon as I could get the $24.00 together for it. Needless to say, this recording didn't stay in the catalog long after the Nilsson/Solti recording was issued in 1964, if indeed it lasted that long. Decca/London finally reissued all the excerpts involving Flagstad on a two-disc set on Richmond; the complete recording has been in limbo for some time, until now.
Of course, the main reason for hearing and acquiring this recording is to hear Kirsten Flagstad's final recorded thoughts about her monumental Gotterdammerung Brunnhilde. Except for a little occasional roughness at the top (she dodges the high C at the end of the dawn duet), she is in magnificent form throughout. It is not surprising that Decca/London originally offered her the role of Brunnhilde in their projected complete Ring cycle under Solti. Svanholm has always been one of my favorite Wagnerian tenors. Even though it was also getting to be fairly late in the day for him, I've never heard anybody sing better the little coloratura phrase "meinem frohen Mute" in Act II. While I'm very grateful that these two important Wagnerians, in the twilights of their respective careers, took part in the Rheingold portion of the historic Solti Ring, this recording presents them to very good advantage in roles for which they were better known.
The rest of the singers are Norwegians, like Flagstad (Svanholm was Swedish). The three Gibichungs are all quite good. Ingrid Bjoner, who would go on to have a major career, sings a beautifully feminine Gutrune, and Egil Nordsjo is a properly evil Hagen. Waldemar Johnsen came in for a lot of criticism for his weak Gunther although I have always found him to possess just the right quality for this character who is duped and ultimately killed by Hagen. Among the remaining characters, all of whom sing well, the Waltraute of Eva Gustavson, best known as Amneris in Toscanini's Aida, and the Second Norn and Wellgunde of Karen Marie Flagstad, presumably Kirsten's sister--there is certainly a similarity in their voices--are worth pointing out.
I have always enjoyed Oivin Fjeldstad's conducting of the opera, even if he isn't the Wagner specialist that Knappertsbusch, Solti, Bohm and others are. The recorded sound on the CDs is much more than merely listenable, even if it doesn't quite capture the unique quality of the LPs. One important caveat is that the part of the interlude between the two scenes of Act One known as Hagen's Watch has been omitted. This section was not included on the original radio broadcast; similarly, the Norn and Alberich scenes were omitted. Decca managed to record the two vocal scenes at some make-up sessions, and they ran out of time before they could record Hagen's Watch as well. I find this omission less bothersome than others do.
The set is completed with Flagstad singing excerpts from Tristan und Isolde from concerts in 1950 and 1952. She is in absolutely stunning voice in these recordings, and anybody who believes she didn't sing her own Bs in the Furtwangler recording of the opera would benefit from hearing these performances.
The remastering is good (the LP lead-in grooves are very audible at the beginning of the first disc), although I find the price a bit high considering the many commercial reissues from this period that are much more within reach. I hope that Naxos decides to tackle this recording one day.
Because of the missing Hagen's Watch, the somewhat dated sound and the somewhat provincial character of the still-enjoyable supporting cast, I can't recommend this Gotterdammerung, much as I love it, as the only recorded version for a collection. The price stands in the way of it being even a supplemental version. Nevertheless, for those who don't mind spending the money or looking around for a better bargain, this recording gives a lot of pleasure. It certainly given such to me over the years, and I'm glad to see it finally back in circulation. And of course, price and everything else notwithstanding, it is a must for fans of Flagstad and Svanholm."
A fascinating experience
Dag Kyndel | Hölö, Sweden | 04/15/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I have been lucky enough to be able to buy the LP version recently, factory sealed! This is a fascinating performance in every way, the last performance of Flagstad in Götterdämmerung, and she sings wonderfully throughout. Please note that another laber WALHALL has published this performance recently and at a super bargain price!"