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Wagner: Götterdämmerung
Richard [Classical] Wagner, Joseph Keilberth, Bayreuth Festival Orchestra
Wagner: Götterdämmerung
Genre: Classical
  •  Track Listings (14) - Disc #1
  •  Track Listings (10) - Disc #2
  •  Track Listings (17) - Disc #3
  •  Track Listings (24) - Disc #4

The is the fourth and final release of the first stereo recording of Wagner's Ring Cycle, Gotterdammerung recorded during the 1955 Bayreuth Festival and featuring Astrid Varnay, with Joseph Keilberth, conductor.


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The is the fourth and final release of the first stereo recording of Wagner's Ring Cycle, Gotterdammerung recorded during the 1955 Bayreuth Festival and featuring Astrid Varnay, with Joseph Keilberth, conductor.

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Klingsor Tristan | Suffolk | 02/22/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)

"I have been more critical than most of the other parts of this Ring Cycle, frequently lauded by others not just as the first stereo Ring, but as the Ring to have over all the rest. To be fair, all 4 parts offer performances that would have been thrilling to have experienced in the theatre, certainly compared to anything you're likely to hear anywhere in the world these days. Standards in Bayreuth in the years following the reopening of the Festival in 1951 and throughout the 50's were impressively and consistently high. But there's the rub. From this one opera house and in that one decade alone there is a range of alternative performances of the Ring, often with a very similar cast, many of which can lay claim to match or even surpass this one, depending on your taste in performance style for this monumental work. Certainly Clemens Krauss from the year before Keilberth is for many people including myself the most satisfying performance of any. Knappertsbusch a couple of years later is patchy but, when he finds his focus, overwhelming - his is a Ring on the grandest scale. These were all in Wieland Wagner's groundbreaking, almost minimalist production from the reopening year of the Festival. Kempe in 1960 (in Wolfgang's first deconstructed dish production) is at the opposite end of the scale; more intimate, more subtle, very much alive to the ebb and flow of the entire cycle. Bohm a few years after that in Wieland's second, much more claustrophobic and primitive production is again a first choice Ring for many connoisseurs, intensely theatrical and with a cast similar to that of Solti's spectacular studio performances, here excelling themselves in live performances. Beyond that, you have Boulez, blowing some fresh air into the textures, cleaning the patina of age off the picture, but less than profound in the great moments, and Barenboim, following in the footsteps of his idol, Furtwangler, in his flexible approach to tempi, but not quite matching his broad architectural control. Neither has a cast to approach those of the 50's.

Having said all that, I must admit that this Gotterdammerung is the finest part of Keilberth's cycle. The urgency of his conducting carries the narrative along on a wave of inevitability to its tragic (if, indeed, it can be called tragic) and glorious end. This works to best effect in the taut, urgent and intense arch of Act 2. In the grandest moments of Act 3, however, you may feel something more is needed. For a Funeral March and an Immolation that carry the full grandeur and weight of the destruction of a whole civilisation (which is what they ultimately are), perhaps you need to turn to Kna, to Goodall or to Furtwangler.

The singers throughout the lifespan of this first Wieland Wagner production were remarkably consistent and uniformly of a far higher standard than we are forced to accept these days. Varnay never sang with less than 100% commitment, here more than ever. Hers is a white-hot performance: the voice has more warmth and darkness (if that's not oxymoronic) than a Nilsson, less mumsiness than a Flagstad and she uses it with bold abandon in the Dawn Duet and the Oathtaking of Act 2. Windgassen is truly a youthful hero (compared to his outings for Solti and Bohm) and brings real poetry to the Narration and Death. I'm inclined to think Neidlinger the definitive Alberich and here, as throughout the cycle, he gives his definitive performance. Uhde, too, is near enough the definitive Gunther, but his performance for Knappertsbusch in '51 perhaps shades this one for penetrating depth of characterisation. I've always found Greindl's voice a bit unattractive compared to the rich blackness of a Frick or an Andresen, but it certainly has the size to dominate a Wagnerian orchestra in full cry in his summoning of the vassals. Rhinemaidens, Norns and a superb Pitz-trained chorus are all worthy of their colleagues.

This is undoubtedly a very fine performance, one that does not deserve to have lain gathering dust on the shelves for so long. The finest Ring on disc, though? For my money that accolade would go to Krauss or, in Gotterdammerung alone, Knappertsbusch in 1951 - a concentrated, intense and profoundly moving performance on the grandest scale. The sound on these new `First Ever Stereo' recordings is good, too, giving an excellent impression of the unique Bayreuth acoustic, but Culshaw and Solti in Vienna are undeniably in a different class. To sum up, this is a Gotterdammerung well worth hearing, owning even, alongside other Bayreuth versions. But to say it sweeps all before it is perhaps overstating the case."
The Climax of the Definitive Ring
Ralph J. Steinberg | New York, NY United States | 02/15/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"After having bought Rheingold, Walkure and Siegfried, I had high hopes for this last Ring opera. If anything, they were surpassed. Conductor Keilberth reveals a mastery of this richest and most complex of Ring scores in a way that boggles the mind. Every bit of pacing and phrasing is simply perfect, and it fits together so well that singling out examples won't do it justice. This is a true symphonic entity. anyone who thinks that Gotterdammerung is an overlong opera should listen to the concentration and intensity of Keilberth's interpretation. As for the cast, they really outdo themselves. Windgassen's Siegfried is if anything more secure and heroic than in Siegfried, and his Narration and Death are heartbreaking. Uhde's Gunther is perfect in its blend of heroism and cowardice. Brouwenstyn's Gutrune is perfect as an innocent seductress, von Illosvay's Waltraute is very urgent and really convincing, and Greindl's Hagen is perhaps the most polished and malevolent on recording. Neidlinger remains the classic Alberich, better than on another other cycle, because his portryal is multidimensional, embittered and downtrodden as well as spiteful. As for Varnay's Brunnhilde, well, she is the best, period! Vocally, she combines Flagstad's warmth with Nilsson's high notes, and goes through the metamorphoses of ardent lover to vengeful harpie to transfigured and resigned figure of wisdom more convincingly than any other. The sheer strength that she musters in the Immolation has to be heard to be believed. There is no question about it: GET THIS RING CYCLE AND LISTEN! BAYREUTH RULES FOREVER!
I would like to clarify something here. I fully appreciate other ring recordings in existence. I would never want to be without the Kempe or Krauss Bayreuth Rings, or the great 1951 Knappertsbusch Gotterdammerung. Each has something to contribute to our knowledge and appreciation of this, one of the greatest works of western art. But again, I must say that if I prefer this Keilberth Ring above others, it is merely because this is one Ring in which everything has gone right and fits so perfectly together. Plus, Keilberth seems to unite all the best qualities of the aforementioned conductors and makes this such a compelling experience for this listener. As for the recorded sound, I do not agree that it is behind in quality to the Solti/Decca. Wagner intended for there to be a BALANCE between singer and orchestra, not a predominance of orchestra over singer, something that happens in the Solti at times. This is not to belittle that achievement, but rather, that to my mind and ears, this is more what the composer wanted us to hear. The contrapuntal yextures are simply clearet in this recording; the Rhine Journey could almost be a Bach Brandenburg Concerto! REAL power comes from clarity, subtlety, light and shade, and tension, rather than from sheer muscle and brute force. I feel that Keilberth, like Krauss, Kempe and (at times) Knappertsbusch, offers us these qualities in greater portions than does Solti (again, not to in any way belittle his great concept). It is fortunate that, as I had said in the Rheingold review, there is a richness of great Ring recordings to offer us thought."
Full Circle
Howard G Brown | Port St. Lucie, FL USA | 05/09/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"The 1955 Bayreuth Ring comes full circle with this excellent GOTTERDAMMERUNG. The cycle is a superb example of music drama at its finest, with golden-age performances caught live, in sound equal to the best of its day. We hear a truly stellar cast, in their prime, with several seasons of RING performances behind them. The conductor, Joseph Keilberth, had been conducting at Bayreuth since the 1952 RING. He knew the house well, and all the singers.

I would not want to be without the Clemens Krauss RING of 1953, another great cycle from Bayreuth, but the quality of sound, good as it is, cannot match the 1955 cycle, concluded with this recording. The only real problem the Decca team encountered was with the 'infernal' smoke and fire machine that runs through the Nibelheim scene of DAS RHEINGOLD.

There is no such technical problem with GOTTERDAMMERUNG. This, and its companion dramas of the Cycle, surely must be the benchmark in terms of cast, sound quality, conducting, and orchestral execution. It may be outpointed in certain areas, but overall this GOTTERDAMMERUNG completes a RING that ought to be the first choice, if cost is not an issue.

It is expensive. The cost for the vinyl version is staggering, though I suppose purists will insist on having that incarnation. I am very happy with the CDs, which I purchased one set at a time as they emerged. It took a while, but the wait has been worth it."